NCAA countdown: No. 12 Ohio State
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: With yet another star player to replace and no high-caliber recruits coming in to recharge in 2013-14, Ohio State coach Thad Matta will be forced to turn to his returning nucleus to keep the Buckeyes at an elite level that’s included two Sweet 16 trips, a Final Four finish and last season’s Elite Eight run.
By default, Ohio State will have to improve from within, which means the maturity of supporting players will be at the forefront of this team come November.
The loss of Deshaun Thomas (19.8 ppg) to the NBA leaves a huge hole to fill offensively, but this team has the necessary ingredients — mainly senior leadership — to contend in the Big Ten once again and position itself for a deep postseason run.
It starts and ends with senior point guard Aaron Craft, the heady floor general who is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the country. His knack for making big plays won’t show up in the box score unless you’re looking at the win-loss column. Senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. leads a cast of talented returning guards that complement Craft nicely on the wing.
LaQuinton Ross, a 6-8 junior forward, has the potential to make up for lost production and his skill set is reminiscent of Thomas’ all-around game. Ross can step out on the perimeter to make jumpers, put the ball on the floor when he needs to, and score with an array of post moves.
Matta’s unfinished 2014 recruiting class already far exceeds his 2013 class. But don’t expect a placeholder year. Big Ten hardware and Final Fours are high expectations for this team, but aren’t they always?
2012-13 in review: 29-8 overall (13-5 Big Ten Conference), lost in the Elite Eight to Wichita State.
Tournament projection: At-large bid, No. 3 seed.
Coach’s corner: “I don’t know if I could give a true projection or expectation for this team just yet. I think we have a chance to have a really, really good basketball team. I love the energy, I love the cohesiveness of us. I’m very excited about … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 12 Ohio State, click here.]