The 2012-13 edition of the Ohio State Buckeye roundballers take to the court Friday night, hoping not to get sea sick or upstaged by the Marquette Warriors as they play on the USS Yorktown in the Carrier Classic. Although most of us are still very much in the football frame of mind, hoops season is upon us, and it might just be another enjoyable ride.
Last year's squad made it all the way to the Final Four, finishing 31-8, and coming within an eyelash of the championship game. Yet in spite of the success at times the team seemed to underachieve. Senior William Buford went into a well documented shooting funk, rarely hitting key shots when they were needed most. Meanwhile, Jared Sullinger had moments when he seemed to suffer from a sophomore slump, and some nights looked to be forcing shots out of frustration. Still that duo will be sorely missed, as Buford not only averaged 14,5 ppg, but also 5.0 rpg, and 2.7 apg. He usually found ways to contribute even when his shot was errant. As for Sully, in spite of being double teamed and beat up by opponents, he averaged 17.5 ppg and 9.2 rpg. Without doubt this year's team will need to be more balanced, with two of the three big guns having moved on.
So what can we expect from this year's team? Will Thad Matta play more than a seven man rotation, for which he is famous? Can this group make another run at the Final Four? Let's take a moment to get acquainted with the 2012-13 Buckeyes before the ball is tossed into the air and another long season begins.
The other wing should be manned by skinny sophomore LaQuinton Ross, who is 6-8, but likes to play on the perimeter. Last year was all but lost for Ross, as he was not eligible until the second semester and only played in nine games. However, he has a smooth outside shot, and the kind of length you like at forward. If he can improve on defense, Ross could be a valuable weapon.
Center should be manned by Amir Williams, a tall sophomore from Detroit who showed fine defensive skills last season. He played in 29 games and came up big against Syracuse in the Elite 8, when foul trouble sidelined Sully. Williams can rebound and block shots, but his offensive skills need some polishing. However, Thomas and Ross will be more than happy to take some extra shots for him! In truth, Williams may be the biggest key to how far this team goes, and he will improve the interior defense that was porous at times last year.
Backcourt: The strength of this year's squad is probably at the guard position with two returning starters. The point guard is none other than fan favorite Aaron Craft, the reigning B1G defensive player of the year. He finished last year averaging 8.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, and 4.6 apg. In addition he had an eye-popping 98 steals. Craft takes care of the basketball, plays shut-down D, and can score when pressed. This year he will need to look for his shot more often. Considering that he hit 50% from the field and 35.9% from behind the arc, that isn't all bad.
Craft's running mate is the underrated Lenzelle Smith, who is a fierce rebounder, a good defender, and a streaky scorer. As a sophomore in his first year as a starter, Smith finished with averages of 6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and 2.0 apg. He had some big nights, including a 28 point performance in a huge win at home versus Indiana. Smith stroked three's at 37.8% and will need to look for his shot a lot more this season.
Bench: Although Thad often forgets about it, he does have a bench, and it should be vital to success this season. Three players will be in the regular rotation. First, there is senior Evan Ravenal, who has the body (6-8, 250) to play the 4 or 5. Last year he was a key reserve averaging 3.4 ppg and 2.2 rpg. Matta needs him to provide more interior scoring this go round.
Sam Thompson may be the most valuable reserve, although he could find himself starting before the year is over. He is a true swingman, who can play guard of small forward, and is a human highlight reel with his amazing leaping ability. This team will need more than 10 minutes and 2 points per game out of the talented Thompson, his averages from a season ago.
The other key player off the bench will be guard Shannon Scott, who showed good passing ability last year but a wayward shot. He did average 1.7 apg in limited time, but shot a dreadful 28.2% from the floor, and must improve his shot. Scott is capable of penetrating the lane and breaking down a defense, and also possesses some good ball-hawking skills.
Beyond those three, there isn't much as high-flying J.D. Weatherspoon and streaky shooting Jordan Sibert are no longer wearing scarlet and gray. The only freshmen is 6-5 guard Amadeo Della Valle who may get some minutes against zone defenses, as he is a highly regarded outside shooter. Trey McDonald is also available, but the 6-8 forward looked lost in limited action a season ago.
What to Expect: I think the preseason ranking is a little high at number 4 or 5, which is where most experts rate this team. Rebounding worries me, because Sully so often pulled down 12-15 boards in big games, and Buford was a pretty decent rebounder, too. However, I think this will be a good defensive squad that will pressure the ball, and when the outside shots are falling, they could be really good. Marquette will be an excellent early season test, as the Warriors finished 27-8 last year, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and bring back three starters. Let's hope the young Bucks get off to a good start like a season ago when they began with 8 straight wins. No doubt all of us will miss watching Jared Sullinger, but won't miss all the remarks concerning the size of his rear end! By the end of last year it was almost as famous as J. Lo's badonka-donk!