2008-09 Preview: Ohio State

Ohio State (Last season: 24-13, 10-8, #29 Pomeroy ranking): In his last 2 seasons, Thad Matta has taken his teams to the championship game in the postseason, and he's 1-1 in those games. Problem is that the loss comes in the NCAA game, and the win was last year in the NIT. Matta found out just how much returning minutes mean -- he lost 62% of the minutes from the Final Four team. Keep in mind, he also brought some pretty highly ranked recruits:**

Kosta Koufos: #12
Evan Turner: #54
Jon Diebler: #61
Dallas Lauderdale: #70

Still, those players weren't enough to keep OSU in the tournament (though, I think Matta has a legitimate complaint that the Buckeyes were snubbed). For this year, I'm afraid, I'm seeing some deja vu. Ohio State loses 53% of last year's minutes, and again, brings in some great looking recruits: **

B.J. Mullens: #8
William Buford: #12
*Terrelle Pryor: #53
Anthony "Noopy" Crater: #100

While nothing has been decided, I doubt Pryor will be suiting up for the Buckeyes on the hardwood (call it a hunch, given his potential on the gridiron), so this class gets thinner if that's the case. Nonetheless, this class is a bit more top heavy than the 2007 class, which is a good thing. That said, I don't see how this team improves from last year. When OSU lost 62% of the minutes, and brought in 4 top 70 players, they went from national runner-up to NIT champs. That's a big dropoff. This year, they lose 53% of the minutes, and bring in 3 top 100 players. While I wouldn't expect the same dropoff, it's not hard to see that OSU is in similar, if not identical, circumstances here. Barring something unforeseen, OSU will not see much improvement this season (of course, they were probably better than an NIT team last season).

So where will the Buckeyes be weak? Well, Mullens should be able to replace the departed Kosta pound-for-pound (and maybe then some), and perhaps Lauderdale can help offset the loss of Othello Hunter. So the interior production should be fine. While OSU struggled shooting from the perimeter (33.6%), it's hard to imagine Jon Diebler getting any worse (28.9%). However, Jamar Butler's absence will hurt this team tremendously, because outside of him, Ohio State was pretty careless with the ball last season:

TO Rates (returning players in Bold)
Kosta Koufos: 12.6
Othello Hunter: 17.1
Jon Diebler: 18.9
Matt Terwilliger: 19.3
Jamar Butler: 19.7
David Lighty: 23.5
Evan Turner: 28.8
Dallas Lauderdale: 38.3
P.J. Hill: 26.8

It's hard to see how this team won't have a turnover problem. For one, P.J. Hill didn't flash much of a PG skillset last season (15.7 Assist Rate is shooting guard-esque), so he's probably not going to replace Butler. That means it's likely up to Buford, Turner, or Crater. Buford and/or Turner would both be playing out of position, and Crater is a true freshman...and not of the "instant impact" variety. Thad's going to have to get creative with the position, but if he manages to keep the team TO Rate under 21.5 or so, it will be an excellent achievement. Only 3 BCS teams made the NCAA tournament with a TO Rate above 21.5, and only one made the Dance with a rate above 22.0 (bubble-esque Kentucky). I see a real battle for OSU to return to the tournament this season, and they'll likely find themselves on the bubble, again.

Moreover, there's a significant chance that Mullens and Buford will be gone after this season, and OSU will be in the same predicament for the third year in a row. One might think that Matta would tire of these one-and-done players, as it seems he needs at least three of them in order to reach the Final Four. Well, Matta doesn't appear to be developing any such distaste -- he's already locked up top 10 talents DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger for 2010._

Projected Ohio State rotation (statistics are for conference games only):