Ohio State Basketball: Buckeyes' 5 Must-Win Games for 2012-13

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Ohio State Basketball: Buckeyes' 5 Must-Win Games for 2012-13
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Thad Matta wants more than just another Final Four trip.

Ohio State comes in ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 poll, and this season is one in which the Buckeyes can reasonably call themselves true contenders.  They have a talented cast of players left in the wake of the departure of Jared Sullinger and William Buford.  Sullinger and Buford accounted for more than 32 points per game, so ordinarily the thought would be "rebuild."

Yet, there isn't much need to rebuild, because what remains after those key subtractions is still a very good basketball team.

Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith and Aaron Craft are a nice trio for the Buckeyes to develop and build around.  

Thomas, a 6'7" junior forward, averaged 19.2 points per game in the NCAA tournament and he made the second team All Big-Ten last year.  He's diversified his game to be both perimeter- and post-oriented now, so it's quite likely he makes the first team all-conference this year.

Craft is a top-tier defensive player who set the school record for steals last year with 98.  He won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award last year.  Craft will have to prove he can score more if he's going to make any push for playing at the NBA level.  

At this point, Craft is just a good point guard on a great Big Ten team.  He doesn't post really flashy numbers (8.8 points per game, 4.6 assists per game), but he's a good floor general and makes his teammates better.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. is a returning starter who has improved every year as a Buckeye, but must continue to refine his offensive game to become a more featured player for OSU.  Smith averaged just 6.8 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game a year ago.

The Buckeyes should be there at the end in March, but there's a regular season to get through and a Big Ten championship to be won first.  The must-win games may all seem somewhat obvious—big games against ranked opponents—but it is those games that decide a season.  The losses to poor opponents are often unpredictable.

That said, let's take a glance at five Ohio State Buckeyes games that are going to prove to be pivotal.

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