*Midnight Madness is over, and with it went the smoke machines, dunk contests and laser shows that kick off the season. College basketball begins now, and while the excitement still remains it’s time to peel the hype back and see who the nation’s best truly are. That’s why Dime has you covered with individual previews of the nation’s top 15 teams and a few others just outside, all over the course of the next few weeks. Today, Ohio State.
This Ohio State team features several young and unproven players, which is scary enough to make or break the entire season. However, just as many young and unproven players tend to be, this group is very athletic. Sophomore Amir Williams, the likely starting center, displayed the instinct and athleticism necessary to be a shot-blocking force in limited time last season. He’s not going to draw any comparisons of Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger, but he can put the ball in the hoop from the block more times than not. Bench big Sam Thompson can jump plain out of the gym and would give the Buckeyes a scary-good offensive rebounding lineup by putting time in at the four with Williams at the five and Deshaun Thomas manning the three. All three players are accomplished offensive rebounders and this look would be a nightmare, for size and skills reasons both, for any team in the nation. Point guard Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. on the wing provide the ability to play the brand of defense that will set the pace of the game by forcing opposing teams inside. This bunch isn’t crazy athletic and won’t be a likely top 10 plays candidate, but they’re just athletic enough to take advantage of the skills present on the roster.
When it comes to shooting as a fundamental, Thomas becomes Tim Duncan. The man he replaces as the Buckeye’s go-to-guy, Sullinger, was nowhere near as potent of an offensive threat as Thomas has shown the potential to be. In last year’s NCAA Tournament, he broke out in a huge way to the tune of 19 points per contest and showed he can carry the team when he’s hot. When he isn’t the hot hand, the technically sound and well-spaced perimeter game provided by Smith Jr. will keep this offense afloat. If the three isn’t being kind on a particular night, though, surgeon general Aaron Craft possesses a basketball IQ large enough that the entire team can tap into it. His work in spacing the floor as Thomas runs through screens to get open looks, or his ability to orchestrate a workable pick-and-roll game will be the hallmarks of what will be an efficient, if not flashy, OSU offense. Coach Thad Matta‘s teams are always well-coached and sound defensively and with Craft taking away opposing team’s best perimeter threat each game — this year will be no different in that regard.
The Buckeyes’ on-court fluidity this year starts and ends with point man Craft. The junior returns as the team’s resident chemist after a year in which he was named conference defensive player of the year, placed on the Lefty Driesell national all-defensive team and named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award. He did all of this while averaging a shade under nine points and five assists per game. His lack of numbers is a non-factor in his national appeal because Craft is the consummate hard-work basketball player whose worth is on both ends. He’s the “glue guy” who isn’t afraid to be more than just a supporting player. The 2012-2013 version of Ohio State’s entire scheme runs through Craft first, and that’s great news for Matta.