Thad Matta has got a little bit of a thing going on in Columbus. Sure, the Buckeyes lose the national player of the year Evan Turner to the NBA. But the way Matta is rolling right now, he just reloads with the number one recruiting class in the nation (according to ESPN – Scout.com has them as the third best recruiting class). And it’s not like the cupboard was emptied after last season’s sweet 16 run: four starters return, seniors David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale and junior William Buford.

But, things of course will have to be shaken up a bit to replace Turner, as none of the four returnees can run the point for the Buckeyes, and the two players that gave Turner a bit of a blow running the offense, P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons, were both seniors. Into the fray will step one of two freshmen points: Aaron Craft or Lenzelle Smith, two very different point guards. Where Craft is a small, quick, energetic guard, Smith is more of a power guard with a big body and the ability to back down smaller defenders. Whoever wins the battle for the starting spot will be spelled by the other, as an excellent change-of-pace reserve.

Alongside the winner of the battle for the point guard position will likely be at least three of the four returning starters. It would be surprising if any of Lighty, Diebler and Buford do not start in 2010-11, but Lauderdale may be in for a battle for his position, as Jared Sullinger, one of the top five recruits in the nation (ESPN’s #2, Scout’s #4) joins the squad. Sullinger is an excellent offensive center with post moves and shooting range out to 18 feet, and he may force Lauderdale – a player whose offensive range is “a dunk or closer” according to Bill Raftery – to contribute as a reserve. Freshman forward DeShaun Thomas, a guy who is either an undersized four or a very strong three, will also make a push for a starting spot, but given that you can only start five, may have to settle for making his impact off the pine.

The recruiting class is rounded out by scoring guard Jordan Sibert and Sullinger’s high school teammate, J.D. Weatherspoon, an athletic, high-flying combo forward. Additional depth will come from senior power forward Nicola Kecman and junior center Zisis Sarikopolous, both of whom will have to improve drastically to get any type of serious minutes.

There will be as much talent in Columbus as ever next season (which is saying a whole lot), but the season could hinge on getting one of those freshman point guards to play like something other than a freshman by the time March rolls around. While neither Buford, Lighty nor Diebler are great ballhandlers, each are good enough that they can ease the demands on the point, which should allow Matta’s athletic and talented offensive players to excel. While Michigan State and Purdue may remain co-favorites in the Big Ten (depending on the decisions of Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson), Ohio State will again be a sleeper to take down the conference title.

 


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