08-09 Overall Record: 22-11
08-09 Conference Record: 10-8 (T-4th)
08-09 Conference Efficiency Margin: +0.02 (5th)
Percent of Returning Minutes: 88.8
Percent of Returning Freshman Minutes: 17.6
Last year, Ohio State was arguably the most talented team in the conference, with seven RSCI top 100 players on the roster. But the pieces didn't fit very well together, and more significantly, that talent was very inexperienced. This year, the team is less talented ("only" 5 RSCI top 100 players remain), but more experienced. The pieces, however, still don't fit very well.
We predicted last year that the Buckeyes would struggle with turnovers due to a lack of a true ballhandler, a prediction that held true. Unfortunately, a steady point guard has not materialized in Columbus, so turnovers will still be an issue this season. However, everyone else returned, and the overall numbers should get better, if still a liability. The point guard responsibilities will likely again fall to Evan Turner, who did an admirable job considering he's ideally suited for the small forward position. For most teams, that situation would result in disaster. For Ohio State, the result was an NCAA Tournament berth, which was due in no small part to Mr. Turner's skills. Simply put, there is no better one-on-one player than Turner in the conference, and probably all of college basketball right now. He's quick and skilled enough to easily drive past big men, and he's tall and strong enough to shoot over smaller players. The "21" number on the back of his jersey is appropriate, considering that it usually takes 2 men to guard the 1 Mr. Turner.
All of that attention devoted to stopping Turner opened things up for the rest of the Buckeye offense, one of the better shooting teams in the country. The 57.2 eFG for Thad Matta's team easily outpaced the league. The difference between Ohio State and the next best shooting team (Northwestern) was greater than the difference between Northwestern and the worst shooting team in the conference (Minnesota).
To be fair, a lot of that shooting came on a result of a play that has been summed up as "Mongo Go To Rim." There really isn't enough information out there to know if Mongo's replacement, Zisis Sarikopoulos (can't wait to see the 10 point font on that jersey), is equally adept with the skill of catch-ball-and-make-go-through-orange-circle, but based on his statline at UAB, we can probably expect a less aggressive player than Mullens, and probably less efficient at scoring when he does shoot.
That's not too much of a problem, however, considering how many other options are present in Columbus. David Lighty returns for his final season after missing most of last year with an injury, though his presence is mostly felt on the defensive end. Jon Diebler regained his shooting touch after a disastrous freshman season, making 46% of his 3-point attempts in conference play last year. However, the biggest piece of the puzzle returning alongside Turner is last year's Freshman of the Year, William Buford. Though he didn't get a lot of credit for it, Buford was every bit as efficient as, say, Eric Gordon was a year before:
Although they were different players style-wise (Buford is much more of a pure shooter than Gordon was), the efficiency and usage rates were quite similar. But there is one big difference -- Gordon never returned for his sophomore season (not that you could blame him, given the NBA millions and the circus in Bloomington at the time). Buford figures to improve on his freshman numbers, and he and Turner comprise the best duo in the Big Ten. In short, when this team doesn't turn the ball over, they will be extremely difficult to stop.
Defensively, however, Ohio State was mediocre, and this one I pin on Matta. For three seasons in a row, Matta has had two outstanding shotblockers in his starting rotation. Over that same time period, however, the defense has allowed opponents to make plenty of three point shots. That's excusable -- every defense has a weakness. What I don't understand is why Matta installs a zone defense that encourages opponents to play to OSU's weakness, rather than its strength. This season, Ohio State will again feature outstanding shotblocking talent. Whether or not the Buckeyes get any mileage out of it will depend on the scheme Matta goes with. And there are signs that some changes might be coming.
Regardless, because of this team's offensive ability, the only way this team misses the NCAA Tournament is if Evan Turner goes down (knock on that wood, Buckeye fans). Frankly, the talent and experience is there for this team to compete for the Big Ten title.