First the good news for the Ohio State University basketball team: It returns all five starters and over 85 percent of its scoring offense from a team that made it to the NCAA tournament last year.
Now the bad news: Starting center Dallas Lauderdale will miss the beginning of the season after breaking his hand in practice.
Among the games he could possibly miss will be match-ups against powerhouse North Carolina and either Syracuse or California at the Coaches for Cancer Tournament (Nov. 19-20).
At 6'8" Lauderdale might not have the optimum height you want in your center, but he is powerfully built with a tremendous wing span. What he lacks as a scoring threat he more than makes up for as a gifted shot-blocker and an improving rebounder.
His short absence will be greatly missed, as the only other front-court player on the Buckeyes' roster with experience is 6'9" Kyle Madsen. The former walk-on is big on hustle, but short on athleticism.
Madsen has a decent short-range shooting touch, but does not possess the hands necessary to be a reliable low-post threat.
Thad Matta is hoping that seven-foot transfer Zisis Sarikopoulos is ready to provide a lift while Lauderdale is healing. Sarikopoulos is a former 18-and-under Greece National Team star, leading them to the U18 European Gold Medal in 2008.
He's a shot-blocker and rebounder, but will need to improve his footwork near the basket to get more playing time.
6’9” Serbian Nicola Kecman will be a nice addition to the Ohio State team. As with many European big men, the junior college transfer doesn’t mix it up inside. But he possesses a nice outside jump shot, and his size will draw opposing low-post defenders out of the lane.
The Buckeyes boast one of the best, if not the best, wing combinations in college basketball in Evan Turner (6'7" Jr.), William Buford (6'5" So.), David Lighty (6'5" Jr.), and Jon Diebler (6'6" Jr.).
Evan Turner in particular does not get the respect he deserves as a top-flight small forward. Turner is equally adept at shooting it from long range as he is taking it to the hole. Because the team lacks a true playmaker at point guard, the offense generally runs through him.
Last season, Turner improved his three-point shooting to 44 percent and shot over 50 percent from the field. In addition to his 17.1 PPG, he averaged over seven rebounds to go along with 4.4 assists per game.
Look for continued improvement and consistency from Buford in his second NCAA season. The former McDonald’s All-American proved he can score off the dribble as a freshman, but he will be even more dangerous as he develops an outside shot.
Always a scoring threat (11.1 PPG), Buford’s minutes will be more consistent now that he is buying into Coach Thad Matta’s defensive system.
When David Lighty went down with an injury in 2009-2009, the Buckeyes lost their heart-and-soul (and captain). Lighty is back as Mr. Do-It-All for 2010 and it will pay dividends.
Lighty is clearly the team’s best on-the-ball defender and he can handle the ball in a pinch. He’s the gritty team leader that is great at nothing, but good at everything.
This should be the year when Buckeyes fans finally see some consistent outside scoring from Jon Diebler. Diebler had games last season when he was unstoppable from beyond the three-point arc, but he also had games when he could never find the range.
As a junior, Diebler should establish himself as one of the top long-distance threats in college basketball.
While the Buckeyes are set at the wing, things are not so rosy at the point guard position.
Jeremie Simmons will return as a starter after a rather nondescript 2008-2009. The former junior-college transfer never lived up to the expectations that followed him to Columbus, Ohio. In fact, Simmons' time on the floor decreased as the season wore on.
He is vowing to make amends this year, and it is quite possible that his play will determine whether the Buckeyes are a good team or a great team.
Senior P.J. Hill started to get the bulk of the playing time at the point because of his high energy. But he is better suited as a role player off the bench because of his inability to take care of the basketball.
Sophomore Walter Offutt may see some limited minutes at the point. However, the 6'3" Offut has a reputation as more of a scoring two-guard who will struggle if asked to defend smaller, quicker point guards.
This Buckeyes team is unique in that it boasts not a single freshman on the roster. They have plenty of experience, and a nice blend of scorers and tough defenders.
If Coach Matta can get even average play out of the point guard position, this team can challenge for a Big Ten title. Improvement from Jeremie Simmons will go a long way in deciding how far the Buckeyes can advance once they reach the NCAA Tournament.
The team will defend with its length and athleticism on the wings, and there will be nights when they will simply run lesser teams out of the gym. However, unless Simmons completely turns it around, the Buckeyes will not be considered an elite team.