Monday, October 24, 2011


Jared Sullinger
AP/Terry Gilliam
COLUMBUS — Buckeye Nation may be reeling from the tough start of its football team this season, but the anticipation for the young men taking to the hardwood at Ohio State is reaching biblical levels.

"I know people are depending on us with the football team having a lot of problems," Sophomore star forward Jared Sullinger said. "As far as everyone putting everything on us, it'll really give us motivation to get us going ...

"The football team is special. (We know) we came to a football school. With fans coming up to us and saying they're looking at us as their savior, it means a lot."

Perhaps the love from the fans is mostly due to the fact that the football team is struggling. Or it could be that head coach Thad Matta has created an atmosphere of excellence during his tenure in Columbus.

The latter is probably closer to the fact.

The returning Big Ten coach of the year has lost three senior leaders in Jon Diebler, David Lighty, and Dallas Lauderdale — the "Big Three" if you will.

"That's one of the biggest obstacles we're going to have to overcome — the understanding, the maturity, the guys who have been through the battles," Matta said.

"We've addressed that with these these guys, understanding that the work must be put in, there must be a level of maturity, there must be a level of intensity in everything we do, knowing that it's going to be a challenge," Matta continued. "They've got to learn to accept the challenge. They've got to learn to attack the challenge."

While Matta and the fans may be a little concerned with the loss of leadership the three aforementioned players brought to the team, the all-American Sullinger offered some reassurance that the Buckeyes still have a "Big Three" leading the way.

"Aaron Craft knows basketball to a tee. You've got William Buford that has been here for four years," Sullinger said. "With us three, we will be fine."

OSU returns its top two scorers from a year ago in Sullinger — who averaged 17.2 points a game along with 10.2 rebounds (also a team best) — and Buford who netted 14.4 points per contest.

Craft also returns at the point with his team-leading 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals a game. He may be the one that is looked at as the defensive stopper in Columbus, something Lighty brought to the table for so many years.

"I think the biggest void we're going to have to fill is David Lighty on defense," Craft said. "He covered up a lot of mistakes that other people made just by how hard he played."

Craft is considered by many as the best on-ball defender in college basketball.

Backing up the "Big Three" is sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas — who will look to build off his 7.5 ppg. as a freshman last season — as well as a host of other second-year players in guards Jordan Sibert, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and forward J.D. Weatherspoon, each of whom saw some good action from a team that went 34-3 last year.

The Buckeyes also welcome junior forward Evan Ravenel, a 6-foot-8 transfer from Boston College who will give the Buckeyes another great shot-blocking presence at the rim.

Thomas believes this season's Buckeyes can be special ... really special.

"The expectations are high, but we can be really, really great," Thomas said. "This team we've got right here, it can be an NCAA champion. This team can accomplish more than everybody thinks."

YOUNG BUCKS ... Make no mistake about it, there is definitely plenty of youth on this year's Buckeyes. And plenty of talent, as well.

Once again, Matta hasn't disappointed on the recruiting front bringing in a freshmen class that ranks in the top ten nationally by every major scouting service in the country.

Shannon Scott — Georgia's Mr. Basketball — should split time with Craft at the point, though Matta wouldn't rule out putting both on the floor at the same time. Scott has quite the pedigree as his father Charles played in the NBA. He also has played in many high-pressure games at Milton High School in Alpharetta, leading his team to three straight championship games, having won it all during his junior year.

Having such a battle tested player should make for a smooth transition from high school to the collegiate level.

Amir Williams, a 6-foot-11 center from Detroit, has a nice resume as well. Williams helped Detroit Country Day to a state title during his junior campaign. A big time force down low, not just from a scoring standpoint, but defensively as a shot-blocking machine.

His presence alone will alleviate some of the pressure on Sullinger down low in the post.

Sticking with the state championship theme, 6-foot-8 forward Sam Thompson won an Illinois 4A title in 2009 as a member of the Whitney Young High School squad in Chicago.

That is the intangible with this freshmen class ... not only are they extremely talented but they know how to win.

Thompson is a versatile perimeter player whose athleticism allows him to play multiple positions. ESPN and others should be on notice because when this young man attacks the rim he is sure to make high-flying plays that would make Blake Griffin smile.

Rounding out the freshmen class is Trey McDonald, a 6-foot-8 center from Battle Creek, Michigan. McDonald has great size and excellent instincts when it comes to rebounding the basketball. He can finish around the rim and also has the ability to knock down a medium-range jumper. McDonald is another talented addition to a deep Buckeye basketball team.

RANKINGS/EXPECTATIONS ... Ohio State is ranked third nationally in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll just behind North Carolina and Kentucky.

With some early tests against Florida, Duke, and at Kansas in the first month of action, we should know if the results meet the high expectations.