The Ohio State Buckeyes are going to have their work cut out for them this year if they hope to replace the impact of Jared Sullinger.
That reality becomes even clearer when you take a look at the stat book. In the 2011-12 season, he led Ohio State in points per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game and even three-point percentage.
Thanks to that production, Sullinger is now wearing Celtic green.
I don’t mean to suggest that the Buckeyes are going to necessarily struggle this year without the big man. After all, they are No. 4 in both preseason polls for a reason.
Nevertheless, it’s going to take a team effort to replace Sullinger’s statistics. Read on to see who will lead Ohio State in each major category.
It doesn’t take a basketball rocket scientist to predict who will lead Ohio State in scoring this year.
There were three Buckeyes that averaged double-digit points per game last season, and two of them are gone (Jared Sullinger and William Buford).
That leaves Deshaun Thomas.
While there are certainly some questions about how Thomas will perform as the primary focus of opposing defenses, being the go-to scorer is a role in which he will thrive.
After all, he was the third-leading scorer in Indiana high school history when he came to Columbus. Obviously, the level of competition will be much higher, but leading scorer is a job Thomas has held before.
He is a matchup nightmare for defenses thanks to his 6’7” frame and ability to hit the outside shot. Thomas will also look to post up smaller defenders this year, which is something he did effectively in the exhibition game against Walsh.
The preseason All-American will lead the Buckeyes in scoring by a wide margin.
It would make perfect sense to just throw Aaron Craft’s name here as the point guard and assume he is going to lead Ohio State in assists in 2012-13.
After all, he led the team in dimes a year ago as a sophomore, and there is no reason to expect anything different this time around.
However, a large chunk of those assists were the result of dumping the ball into the post and watching Jared Sullinger go to work. Craft won’t have that luxury this season.
Another factor to watch for is the Buckeyes’ pace of play. Thad Matta wants to play faster this year and has the horses to do just that.
Craft, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross and even Deshaun Thomas give Ohio State a level of athleticism that most Big Ten teams simply do not have.
Despite the loss of Sullinger, Craft will ultimately lead the team in assists because he will be the point man for many of these fast breaks. In fact, he will improve on his passing totals from a year ago because of these transition baskets.
There were a number of contests last year in which Jared Sullinger was a one-man rebound show.
He was the only true big man that Thad Matta gave serious minutes to, and he took advantage of it when he crashed the glass. Sullinger was second in the Big Ten in total rebounds and defensive rebounds and led the conference in total offensive rebounds.
However, like so many other stats this year, another Buckeye is going to have to fill the rebounding void.
Matta would love that player to be Deshaun Thomas, but it will end up being the 6’11” Amir Williams.
Williams was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and would have gotten much more playing time a year ago had he not been backing up a two-time All-American in Sullinger.
Williams is more athletic than Sullinger and will use that (along with his nearly 7'0" frame) to maintain position against the bruising big men of the Big Ten.
The question isn’t whether Aaron Craft will lead Ohio State in steals. The question is whether Craft will lead the entire nation in steals.
Buckeye fans’ favorite defender was second in the country in total steals and eighth in steals per game last season. He also led the Big Ten in both of those statistics.
To get an idea of how effective Craft is on defense, consider the fact that he was named the 12th-best player in the country by CBS Sports in the offseason and averaged only 8.8 points per game last year.
If he can improve on his offensive numbers, which he very well could without Sullinger dominating the ball in the paint, Craft will garner All-American consideration this season.
There is not a better on-ball defender in the Big Ten or country, and Craft will lead the Buckeyes in steals per game by a significant margin.
If there is one thing that Amir Williams does especially well on the basketball court, it is blocking shots.
He averaged nearly a block per game last year in fewer than seven minutes per contest. If those numbers are projected out to a 40-minute game, Williams would have swatted about six shots a night.
He will serve as the defensive anchor for Thad Matta’s squad that depends on its defense to win games. With Williams waiting in the paint, guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. will be free to take more chances and look for more steals.
Something tells me Craft will be perfectly fine with that opportunity.
Ultimately. Williams will not average six blocks a game, but he will lead the Buckeyes (by a wide margin) and perhaps even the Big Ten in swats if he fulfills his defensive potential.
I am going to go somewhat against the grain for this category.
After all, Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State regulars in field-goal percentage last year (52 percent). What’s more, Amir Williams had a better shooting percentage than Thomas (52.8 percent) but just didn’t have the minutes to be considered a contender to lead the team in this statistic.
Thomas returns this year, and Williams will undoubtedly see more game action, so it would seem as if the field-goal percentage crown would come down to one of those two Buckeyes.
However, Evan Ravenel will have something to say about that.
Like Williams, he didn’t register enough minutes to really give his shooting percentage statistics merit, but Ravenel shot 54 percent from the field in 2011-12.
That is largely because Ravenel is perfectly aware of his offensive limitations and rarely ever shoots anything outside of five feet from the basket.
He will once again do that this year, and with Thomas and Williams drawing additional attention from defenses (decreasing their shooting percentage), Ravenel will lead the Buckeyes in field-goal percentage.