Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The Ohio State men’s basketball team spent the majority of its offseason training as if it was a track squad.
Wind sprints. Suicides. Mile-long runs.
That’s the type of training OSU did on the 90-degree days in Columbus this summer to prepare for the upcoming season.
“We’ve seen the track this summer more than we’ve seen the court,” said junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., a returning starter from OSU’s Final Four team last season.
With former standout Jared Sullinger gone to the NBA, the inside-out style of basketball the Buckeyes became accustomed to when the wide-bodied forward arrived on campus two years ago has left.
In its place this year is likely to be an up-tempo, transition-based offense that should feature plenty of highlight-reel worthy dunks and big plays.
OSU players are excited for the new brand of basketball likely to be employed.
“I love it. It’s a lot more fun when you can run up and down the floor. We have a good group of guys that do that,” said junior guard Aaron Craft, another returning starter.
Replacing Sullinger will be a challenge for OSU, and a big one at that. Filling in for the two-time All-American will be a combination of sophomore center Amir Williams and redshirt senior forward Evan Ravenel.
Former guard William Buford is also gone.
Stepping in for the former four-year starter will be sophomore forwards LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson. Sophomore guard Shannon Scott will likely get more playing time because of Buford’s departure, too.
Together, Buford and Sullinger were responsible for roughly 43 percent of OSU’s scoring last season.
What the Buckeyes might lack in terms of experience and developed skill this season, they hope to make up in speed and athleticism.
Williams, arguably, is a better runner than Sullinger. Ravenel lost 25 pounds this offseason, likely priming himself for the transition game. Thompson and Ross are lankier and seem to be better leapers than Buford.
Scott might be one of the fastest lead guards in the country, according to his coach.
“I don’t know if anybody pushes the ball up the floor as quick as Shannon Scott can,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “He gets the ball from point A to point B as well as I’ve seen.”
There isn’t likely to be a hole on the Buckeyes’ roster when it comes to being able to get up and down the floor.
“Just about every position we have someone that runs,” Craft said. “I like it, just putting pressure on the defense more times than not. I don’t think teams in the Big Ten are used to playing at that pace.”
But the Buckeyes will have to learn how to run, and run effectively, before they can call themselves a premier transition team. And it’s not something that is learned easily.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how smart of a team you have to be to play up and down like that,” Smith Jr. said. “It’s a difficult transition. It’s different than what we normally play.”
While the Buckeyes will be more of a run-and-gun type squad this season, there will be times when OSU has to settle down and run its half-court offense effectively.
That’s when OSU will probably miss Sullinger and Buford most.
“There is a lot of speed and athleticism, but there are some tangible pieces that are going to be missing this year,” Matta said.
Those tangible pieces were the players that came up with big buckets down the stretch of games for OSU last season.
Running an effective half-court set will be key in making up for what was lost from the 2011-12 team.
“When we do have to slow it down, (we have to) execute our half-court stuff,” Thompson said. “To say that we’re going to be a running team doesn’t mean that we completely abandon our half-court principles and our half-court execution. We want to be the best of both worlds.”
When OSU does push the ball, though, the players said it will be exciting to watch.
Matta echoed that statement, saying there were many dunks on the fast break during practice this offseason.
That doesn’t mean Matta will let OSU settle for being just a fun team to watch, however.
“I’d take effective over exciting any day,” he said.
OSU opens its season Friday against Marquette at 7 p.m. on the deck of the USS Yorktown in the second annual Carrier Classic in Charleston, S.C. The game is scheduled to be broadcasted by NBC Sports Network.