If you are anything like me, basketball is still a bit of a sore subject for the time being and the new football era can’t come fast enough. After all, it was only about a week ago that the Buckeyes had a championship game berth in their grasp and let it slip away.
But alas, there is always next year (as a Cubs fan, I have become way too familiar with this phrase). Now that Jared Sullinger and (hopefully) William Buford are officially taking their talents to the NBA, and Deshaun Thomas is remaining a Buckeye, next year’s roster is beginning to take shape. It may not look like a Final Four team at this point, but I think it would be premature to write off the potential of next year’s roster before the summer even begins.
The first place you have to look if you want to feel some optimism is the point guard position. It may be hard to believe, but this past year was Aaron Craft’s first collegiate season as a starter. There is no better on-the-floor leader or on-ball defender in all of college basketball, and that will not change next year. What I think will improve is his contributions in the scoring department. We saw a little bit of this in the tournament, and I expect Craft to recognize the need for more of his offense. After all, in case you didn’t see the (awesome) rubix cube clip four-hundred times this year, he is pretty smart.
The other returning starters will be Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. If everything goes according to plan, Thomas will almost certainly be the team’s primary scorer, and he should be. As frustrating as his play was in the loss to Kansas, Thomas showed his potential in the rest of the tournament. He has size, can shoot the three, and is a monster on the offensive glass. If Ohio State is going to reach its ceiling next year, Thomas must be one of the best players in the entire Big Ten.
Smith was a pleasant surprise in the tournament. He showed some flashes during the regular season but also had the tendency to disappear for stretches of games. If he can bring his timely three point shooting and defensive intensity that we saw in the Elite Eight Syracuse victory and Sweet Sixteen Cincinnati victory, I think Smith can certainly replace the loss of Buford’s inconsistent production from this past season.
Here’s where the prognostication gets fun. We know Thomas, Smith, and Craft will likely be starters barring something unexpected, but the other two spots are up for grabs. What I think (read, hope) will happen is Amir Williams grabs the center position by the reins from the beginning and LaQuinton Ross slides into the small forward spot.
Williams has the potential to be an all-conference type of player if he reaches his ceiling. He is the only legitimate shot blocker on Ohio State’s roster and has the ability to put the ball in the basket. While nobody will mistake him for Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger, he has the chance to become a more offensively talented version of Dallas Lauderdale, and there is nothing wrong with that. Confidence might have been an issue at times this season, so it will be important for Thad Matta to give him substantial playing time against the usual early season cupcakes.
Ross is the biggest wildcard for the Bucks next year. He was highly recruited coming out of high school but missed the first month of the past season with academic issues and never found his way into Matta’s rotation after that. He supposedly has a deadly three-point shot and can slash with solid ball handling skills for his size. I’m not saying he is ever going to win the Naismith Trophy, but the closest comparison from recent Buckeye teams I can think of is Evan Turner. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Not that it really matters with Matta as the head man, but that leaves Evan Ravenel, Shannon Scott, and Sam Thompson as the primary bench guys, assuming there isn’t a late recruiting addition in the fold. You could do worse for a bench. Thompson provides great defensive energy and can jump out of the building. Ravenel knows his role – defense, rebounding, and every once in a while some offense. Scott certainly did not reach his five-star potential this year, but as long as the glass is half-full, let’s just say he is going to put it together next year.
All in all, assuming good health, I think the Bucks will finish in the top two or three in the Big Ten. Indiana will be loaded (if everyone comes back), Michigan State is still Michigan State, and Michigan has the chance to be really good if Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway put off the NBA and join a top-notch recruiting class. It should be a good season, even if there may not be a return trip to the final four.
Rest assured that next year’s sports season will not begin and end with Urban Meyer. But it better include a football win on November 24.