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September 17, 2008


Head coach: Thad Matta
Last season: 24-13 overall, 10-8 in Big Ten.
Postseason: Won NIT championship, beating Massachusetts 92-85.
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

BACKCOURT

The Buckeyes will commence a search for Jamar Butler's replacement immediately, but they may not be able to find such a player. Butler was everything to the Buckeyes – scorer, distributor, leader. The probable replacement will be junior college transfer Jeremie Simmons, a combo guard out of Chicago who was the Division II JC Player of the Year after leading Mott Community College (Mich.) to a second consecutive national title. Simmons can distribute and shoot from outside (42.2 percent from 3-point range last season).

The versatile Evan Turner is the only returning player in the frontcourt for Ohio State.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Jeremie Simmons, 6-2/Jr.
Junior college transfer
G David Lighty, 6-5/Jr.
9.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg
C B.J. Mullens, 7-0/Fr.
True freshman
F Dallas Lauderdale, 6-8/Soph.
0.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg
F Evan Turner, 6-7/Soph.
8.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg
TOP RESERVES
G William Buford, 6-5/Fr.
True freshman
G Jon Diebler, 6-6/Soph.
5.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg
G Anthony Crater, 6-1/Fr.
True freshman

The coaching staff could turn the position into a point guard-by-committee project. Freshman Anthony Crater, a three-star prospect, is a pass-first type who will see some minutes. If Simmons is as good as advertised, you also could see he and Crater together.

Ohio State has more known commodities at off-guard, where David Lighty will start. He's a holdover from the national runner-up team two seasons ago and a glue guy for coach Thad Matta. He's an excellent defender and an improved 3-point shooter who should raise his scoring average to around 12 or 13 points per game.

Butler's departure means a loss of more than 100 3-pointers. Many of those shots will go to Jon Diebler. He was second on the team with 48 3-pointers, but his percentage – 28.9 – from distance was nothing to brag about. Still, coaches believe he's a much better shooter than that, and he'll have the green light.

The other factor in the backcourt will be five-star freshman William Buford. He's a big-time scorer who can do serious damage from the perimeter. He also has enough handle to get by defenders, and he can defend on the wing.

FRONTCOURT

The only returning starter up front is sophomore Evan Turner, but he's a good guy to have around because his game meshes well with anyone. He had 20 points and six rebounds in the NIT championship game, and coaches expect him to pick up where he left off. He has worked to increase the range on his jumper, and he already handles it well enough to have played some point guard during the NIT run.

The guy to watch for is fellow sophomore Dallas Lauderdale. He's expected to nab the power forward spot for the Buckeyes after continuing his amazing transformation this offseason. He came to Columbus with around 17 percent body fat, and word is he now is  below 10 percent and looking chiseled. He's 6-9 with a wingspan of 7-4, and it's fair to say coaches expect him to pick up much of the slack created by the departure of Othello Hunter (9.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

The centerpiece of the frontcourt is 7-foot center B.J. Mullens, the top-ranked player in the Class of 2008. He's a big man who can run the floor and finish, and is almost a cross between Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos. He won't be quite the defender Oden was, but he has some nifty post moves and can pass out of the post a la Oden. He also can step out a little bit offensively and knock down shots – maybe not from the range of Koufos, but better than three-fourths of the players his size. Buckeyes coaches fully expect to run much of the offense through Mullens.

OFFENSE

Matta will stress the transition game. Expect the Buckeyes to run out on misses and try to get easy baskets. In the halfcourt, they'll utilize a lot of ball screens and allow players to create. They also know they'll be throwing it in the post to Mullens and Lauderdale.

DEFENSE

Matta has another young team, but there is plenty of talent. He brings in the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class, led by Mullens and Buford - two immediate major impacts. Now he'll have to mesh them with the 2007 class that was ranked seventh by Rivals.com, a class that included Koufos (who left for the NBA after one season), Turner, Lauderdale and Diebler. In a tougher league, it might be a stretch to call the Buckeyes an NCAA Tournament team because of their youth and perceived lack of depth. In the Big Ten, they're a safe bet to finish at least fourth, and that's good enough to put the NIT behind and get to where they really want to go.
For the first time in his career, Matta played zone almost exclusively last season. That probably won't occur this season, but given the success the Buckeyes had with their point zone, it still will be a large part of the package.

SHOES TO FILL

Butler. There are other holes, too, but Butler was the heart and soul of the Buckeyes. He was the leader in scoring (15 ppg), assists (5.9) and 3-pointers (104). Whenever OSU needed a big play, he was the guy.

MUST STEP UP

A point guard. The Buckeyes coaches say they're comfortable with the options at the position, but they'll need someone to step forward - be it Simmons or Crater.

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Mullens. Rivals.com's past No. 1 players include Michael Beasley, Oden, Dwight Howard and LeBron James. Any questions?

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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