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October 23, 2009
Thad Matta is used to losing players early to the NBA draft. Ohio State has been hit as hard as any team by one-and-dones. But losing David Lighty to an injury early last season changed the complexion of the season. When Lighty broke a bone in his foot after seven games, Ohio State lost its most experienced player and one of its defensive catalysts. Behind budding star Evan Turner, the Buckeyes still won 22 games, including 10 in the Big Ten. Ohio State's lineup will be almost a carbon copy of what it could have been a year ago. Lighty is back, as is nearly the entire roster. The only loss is B.J. Mullens, who followed the past two Ohio State centers by leaving after his freshman year. On top of that, Ohio State doesn't have any incoming freshmen. The Buckeyes lost two scholarships as a result of a low Academic Progress Rate, which has been hurt by the one-and-dones.
David Lighty missed most of last season with a broken bone in his foot.
Turner took advantage of the Lighty injury to become one of the best players in the Big Ten. Ohio State needed him to pitch in all over the court, and Turner responded marvelously, leading the Buckeyes in scoring (a Big Ten-leading 17.3 points per game), rebounding (7.1), assists (131) and steals (58). Lighty's return will help, especially defensively. He's the only holdover from the 2007 Final Four team still on scholarship. He's athletic and is an effective complementary offensive player. Mullens wasn't a star by any means, but he did win the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year award, so his contributions will be missed. Dallas Lauderdale is limited offensively, but he has some shot-blocking skills and can rebound; he suffered a broken finger earlier this month and isn't expected back until mid-November. The Buckeyes will have another 7-footer on the bench in UAB transfer Zisis Sarikopoulos, a sophomore who has extensive experience overseas.
Ohio State's biggest liability is at point guard. Jon Diebler and William Buford aren't true point guards, even though they likely will start in the same backcourt. P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons are point guards, but each is limited in some respects; both are better-suited for backup roles. At times last season, Turner played the point, but that diminishes his contributions elsewhere on the court. Buford and Diebler are ideal off-guards. Though inconsistent, Diebler made 41.6 percent of his 3-point attempts. As a freshman, Buford averaged 11.3 points while shooting 44.8 percent.
For the first time since 2005-06, Matta won't have to deal with a major roster overhaul. Barring any unexpected injury, Ohio State should contend for a conference title and a good seeding in the NCAA tournament.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.