The Ohio State Buckeyes advanced to the Sweet 16 last weekend after dominating performances against UT-San Antonio and George Mason, further securing their spot as the best team in college basketball. They face Kentucky next on their road to another Final Four appearance.
They have the superstar, they have the lights-out shooters and they have the role players. Simply put, they have the best starting five in the country.
Winning a national championship may be their goal right now, but once the NCAA tournament is over, those five players will be setting their sights on the NBA. Here's a look at where each one may hear his name called during the upcoming 2011 NBA draft on June 23.
Thomas doesn't technically start for the Buckeyes, but the 6'7", 221-pound freshman is still one of Ohio State's best players.
The small forward is one of the elite shooters in the country with range all over the court. This year he's shooting 48.2 percent from the floor and a reasonable 32.8 percent from three. He's lethal off the dribble and is a terrific rebounder.
He still doesn't get a ton of minutes (only 14.3 per game) because he's behind Jared Sullinger on the depth chart, but when he's in the game, Thomas always shows that he belongs.
One part of the game Thomas still has to work on in is his defense. The athleticism and strength are there, but Thomas seems more concerned with how he's going to get his next shot than how he's going to stop his man.
It's hard to see Thomas declaring after playing in Sullinger's shadow all year, but he'd be a second-round pick if he does. He could upgrade his stock by staying at Ohio State for a couple years and showing NBA scouts what he can do as a starter.
The 6'6", 205-pound Diebler is one of many seniors on the Buckeyes roster, and like them, he's saved his best for last.
Diebler is a sharpshooting guard with percentages that would make Ray Allen jealous. He finished the regular season shooting 50.0 percent from three and 50.7 percent from the field, both career highs. He's made at least one three in every game this season and even hit 10 of 12 in an incredible 30-point performance against Penn State in March.
Diebler's game is otherwise limited. He has good size for a guard, but at just 2.7 RPG he's not athletic enough to contribute much on the boards. He's a decent ball-handler, but certainly not good enough to be a point guard in the NBA. His defense is also just average, though he's shown a good enough grasp of the game to get about a steal a game.
The NBA has several players whose sole skill is hitting the three, so Diebler has a good shot at being drafted. He'll be a late second-round pick or, at the worst, get a training camp invitation.
The fifth-year senior has an impressive combination of size (6'5" and 220 pounds) and intelligence, making him the proverbial glue guy for the Buckeyes.
Lighty is a hard-nosed defender and can guard multiple positions. He's also an exceptional rebounder with 4.1 RPG this past season and an ability to find the ball despite jumping against taller players.
He's a solid offensive player with a good dribble-drive and a knack for finding open teammates. He leads all starters with 3.3 APG and has cut down on his turnovers each season at Ohio State.
Lighty's major weakness is shooting. He finished the 2010-11 season with respectable numbers (47.0 percent from the floor, 43.5 percent from three), but he's far from being a reliable knockdown shooter. His free-throw shooting is especially poor (62.9 percent). He's also not particularly good at getting to the basket and lacks the elite athleticism that NBA GMs covet in guards.
Lighty's defense alone is good enough to get him playing time at the next level, but he has the potential to eventually contribute something on offense too. He'll go in the second round and should find a job as a role player for a good team.
Lauderdale, a 6'8", 225-pound senior, starts at center for the Buckeyes. His playing time has gone down with the arrival of Sullinger and the emergence of Thomas, but he's a solid player in the middle.
He's an aggressive defender and gets most of his points on putbacks in the paint. He's not much of an athlete and is otherwise limited offensively, but with 1.5 blocks per game he's one of the best shot-blockers in the country. Still, he needs a few more marketable talents to get serious consideration from an NBA team.
Lauderdale is unlikely to get drafted.
Buford is a dynamic player for the Buckeyes and one of the best all-around scorers in college basketball. He's a terrific spot-up shooter and is fearless driving to the basket. He can also take defenders off the dribble and hit the pull-up jumper or even post them up and get an open look with a series of ball fakes.
The 6'5", 205-pound Buford starts at the point but is a natural shooting guard. The junior is having a career season with 14.6 PPG on 47.5 percent shooting. He's also vastly improved his three-point shooting and is up to 44.4 percent this year. His assists numbers are low at 3.0 APG, but he's a more than capable ball-handler when he wants to be.
Buford needs to be more aggressive on the defensive end and could stand to add some muscle, but he's athletic enough to stay with most players. He's also not a particularly good rebounder and has a tendency to take some bad shots.
Playing second fiddle to a certain freshman phenom has hurt Buford's draft stock. He's a first-round talent but might slip into the early second round.
The best Ohio State player is also one of the best players in the country and a lock to go in the top five of the NBA draft.
Sullinger is an incredibly talented post player. He uses his long arms and high basketball IQ to get his hands on lots of rebounds (10.0 RPG) and put up lots of points (17.1 PPG). He has a full arsenal of post moves and even has range out to the three-point line.
He's capable of taking over a game on offense but is perfectly happy letting his teammates run the show while he cleans up missed shots.
It's hard to imagine Sullinger getting even better, but the truth is that the freshman isn't a great athlete. He lacks the explosiveness of players like Blake Griffin and is a liability as a defender against quicker players like Amar'e Stoudemire or LaMarcus Aldridge.
Sullinger is still in the discussion for the first pick, but at 6'9" and 261 pounds, he's a bit undersized as a power forward in the NBA. Some team will happily grab him near the top.