Next Year's Buckeyes: Better or Worse?

Ben JohnsonContributor IMarch 25, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 14:  Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes talks with Jeremie Simmons #2 against the Michigan State Spartans during their semifinal game of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 14, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

After four days of analyzing, dissecting, and bemoaning the Ohio State loss to Siena, I have returned to a realization I had in mid-February, right after the Buckeyes lost to Northwestern,  this team was never all that good.

After that fateful night in Evanston, I took stock of the season.  Up to that point, the team’s “quality wins” were against Miami, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Purdue.  Miami and Notre Dame had fallen off the map, Michigan had been revealed as delightfully inconsistent, and Purdue had been playing without Robbie Hummel. 

The “quality wins” were smoke and mirrors.  The Buckeyes were a decent young team, but nothing more.

I held onto that diagnosis through the next five games, which were losses to Illinois and Purdue and wins over Penn State, Iowa, and Northwestern. 

Then, at the dawn of postseason play, Ohio State seemed to gel.  They beat Wisconsin despite a horrific game from BJ Mullins and then hammered Michigan State to get to the conference championship game.  They played a respectable game against Purdue. 

I shoved aside my doubts about the team’s ability.  Sure, I had doubts about their ability to get past Louisville, but I no longer doubted their ability to play ball.

Now I have come to another realization, I am delusional.  I let two wins change my impression of the team.  I cast aside my doubts about the operation, about the team’s athleticism, floor leadership, and defensive skills.  Like a bamboozled Bernie Madoff client, I wanted to believe, and so I did.

The irony is that I went through the same process during football season.  After watching the team sleepwalk to near disaster against Ohio University and then get shellacked by USC, I threw in the towel.  This year's team will be good, I thought, but they will not be great. 

Then the Buckeyes rattled off a few wins, and I was the one somnambulating…right back onto the bandwagon.  It took the Penn State game to bring me back to Earth.

All of that brings me to this,  I am staring at the Ohio State basketball roster and wondering what to expect for next year. 

Evan Turner and William Buford should return.  BJ Mullins almost certainly will not.  Walter Offutt should play more, and Nikola Kecman should see action in at least two games!  David Lighty will be back on the floor, which give the Bucks some much needed defensive leadership.

What if Dallas Lauderdale gets a little tougher and learns to rebound?  What if Jon

Diebler learns to pass when his shots are not falling?  What if either PJ Hill or Jeremie Simmons learns to play the point, manage the offense, and break the press?  If those things happened and if Turner and Buford stay, the Buckeyes will be good.  After another offseason of work and another year at Thad Matta's knee, they might even be great.

Am I lapsing back into delusional optimism?  I’ll let you decide.