Thirteen of the last 20 winners of the NIT have made the NCAA tournament the following season. This, along with the addition of two five-star freshman recruits, has created another season of high expectations in Columbus.
The Buckeyes must replace 44 points and 16 rebounds a game with the loss of Kosta Koufos, Jamar Butler, and Othello Hunter. Butler's ball handling and senior leadership and the defensive presence of Koufos and Hunter will be sorely missed.
As the season approaches, there are more questions than answers as to who will be running the Buckeye offense from the point guard position. However, with the addition of five-star freshman B.J. Mullens, the Buckeyes have added a much needed physical presence down low.
Mullens, like Koufos, is comfortable playing away from the basket, but Mullens also possesses the ability to play with his back to the hoop, which will add an extra dimension to the Buckeye offense.
Coach Matta has landed another gem in a 6'5” shooting guard named William Buford. Buford is a shooter, plain and simple. This McDonald's All-American can score in bunches and hit from anywhere on the floor. With continued work on the defensive side of the ball, Buford could be polished into one of the best guards in the Big Ten.
With a lack of any senior leadership, David Lighty will need to step into the role of leader as a junior. Evan Turner will contribute to the Buckeye cause by performing well behind the three-point line.
Last season Turner shot the most free throws for the Buckeyes (103), but he converted only 69 percent. If the Buckeyes are going to challenge in the Big Ten, they have to pull out victories in close games, and that means Turner must put up numbers like Jamar Butler, who shot 94 percent from the charity stripe last season.
Jon Diebler came to Ohio State last season with the expectation that he would be a prolific shooter. Those expectations were not met as he put up a mere 30 percent field goal percentage. Last season Diebler took 166 shots from beyond the three-point line but converted on less than 29 percent.
If Diebler can find his shot, the one-two punch of Buford and Diebler could cause havoc for the Buckeyes' opponents.
The Buckeyes will be tested early with a string of three difficult out-of-conference games. As December begins, the Buckeyes travel to No. 16 Miami (FL) and to No. 9 Notre Dame and then return home and face the tenacious Butler Bulldogs. Before Big Ten play begins, the Buckeyes have another major hurdle in the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Ohio State plays well at home (35-3 over the last two seasons) but not as well on the road (11-11 over the last two seasons). The road matchups with Miami (FL) and Notre Dame will speak volumes about the rest of the Buckeyes' season.
Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin clearly stand at the top of the Big Ten, and Ohio State could join them by season's end. With a young team in Columbus, the sky is the limit for the Buckeyes. A challenging out-of-conference schedule will test the Buckeyes, but an NCAA tournament bid is within reach.