Jared Sullinger is heading to the NBA, leaving Ohio State with another spot to fill in its starting line up next season. The sophomore two-time All-American forward has decided to forgo his junior and senior years as Buckeye in hopes of playing and being paid at the professional level. It makes sense for Sullinger to leave. After all, what else does he have left to prove? In his two years at Ohio State, the Buckeyes had a 65-11 record, won 2 Big Ten Championships, made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2011 NCAA tournament, and most recently, the Final Four in this year’s tournament. Additionally, as mentioned before, he is a two-time All American and won several conference awards for his outstanding play. Staying at Ohio State another year would be a huge risk for him as far as his NBA draft stock (especially after the struggles he faced with injuries earlier this year), although he says that means little to him.
Now, with Sullinger leaving, Ohio State has some big shoes to fill as he averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game in his two seasons there. They are also losing senior guard William Buford. These two losses have some Buckeye fans wondering what the 2012-2013 edition of the men’s basketball team will look like and rightfully so.
Well, one key piece to next year’s puzzle was put into place yesterday. Sophomore guard Deshaun Thomas announced that he will return for his junior season. It had been said that Thomas was going to base his decision based on his play in the Final Four. In the national semifinal against Kansas, he was 3-14 with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 fouls. Not exactly a winning performance.
Thomas started in all 39 games this year for the Buckeyes and came off the bench for all 37 games his freshman year. This year, he averaged 15 points per game and 5 rebounds. However, while Thomas was stellar on offense this year, his defense is what he will need to develop in the offseason and next year in order to make himself a lottery pick in a future NBA draft. With him coming back, the Buckeyes will be in good shape. They will return 3 starters in him, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Aaron Craft. Smith Jr. is an X-factor for the Buckeyes. If he can develop his 3 point shot and be consistent with it, that would be huge. Craft is already a terror on defense and can make things happen by driving to the hoop. He too would really help this team by developing a more consistent jump shot. To replace Buford & Sullinger, the Buckeyes have some options from this year’s bench. There is 6’8″ forward Evan Ravenel who played behind Sullinger along with 6’11″ center Amir Williams. Ravenel was very inconsistent this year. Sometimes, he looked lost on the court while during others, he played with poise and gave the Buckeyes the lift they needed (see the game @ MSU this year that gave OSU a share of the regular season conference crown). Williams, on the other hand, gave quality minutes in almost every game in which he played. At 6’11″, he has the potential to be a great presence in the post. Some are comparing his shot blocking abilities to those of Kansas’ Jeff Withey. Williams gave quality minutes in big games such as at Kansas in December and then, more importantly, against Syracuse in the Elite Eight match up.
Additionally, Ohio State can turn to freshman guards Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross for help. Scott has the potential to be Craft-like if he develops, and Ross has the ability to be a big scorer for the Buckeyes. Moreover, they have the very athletic Sam Thompson, who gave quality minutes off the bench in different games this year. He is already a lock-down defender, but lacks a consistent jumper like so many of the returning players. If he can develop that shot, he has a good chance of claiming one of those two vacant starting spots. Then there are other athletic reserves like JD Weatherspoon & Trey McDonald as well as guard Jordan Sibert who, if he can work on his three point shot in the offseason, could be a great offensive weapon.
And then there is big man recruit Tony Parker who stands at 6’9″ 270 lbs. The high school senior has not yet committed, but his list of schools includes Ohio State (he is scheduled to decide on April 11th). If by some chance the Buckeyes do get him, then they have the potential to be absolutely lethal next season. Without him, they are likely a top 10 team but with him, they are most definitely top 5.
It is hard to say who will take the two starting spots that have been left open by Buford and Sullinger. Only time will tell. There is certainly no shortage of talent on the Buckeyes’ returning roster. It’s a matter of who develops in the offseason the most and which line up has the most team chemistry. No matter who takes those spots, however, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta will certainly have the ability to use his bench again next year. He did more this year than in past seasons, which is something the Buckeye faithful would like to see continue.
If Ohio State can develop some shooters in the offseason & find some team chemistry (and maybe even get Tony Parker), they will be poised for another strong season next year and likely be one of the favorites to win the Big Ten again. Moreover, don’t be surprised if they make another deep run in the NCAA tournament….who knows, maybe they’ll even get to Atlanta for the 2013 Final Four. Is that premature to say? Yes…but after this year, when it looked like the team was going to fold & they buckled down to get to New Orleans, it convinced most Buckeye fans that you just never know what might happen, especially with a terrific coach like Matta at the helm.
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Tagged with: Aaron Craft, basketball, Big Ten, Buckeyes, DeShaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger, JD Weatherspoon, Jordan Sibert, Lenzelle Smith Jr., NCAA, Ohio State, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Thad Matta, Trey McDonald, William Buford