For the first time since 2005, the hype surrounding the Ohio State men’s basketball team has nothing to do with incoming freshmen. It has nothing to do with recently departed stars and nothing to do with “what could have been.”
The Buckeyes, who had become all too familiar with players leaving early for the NBA, return all but one player from last year’s team and have zero incoming freshmen.
The focus on this team is not on the talent leaving Columbus, but rather on the talent staying in town.
A sense of continuity is something that has been absent from the program since 2006, when Greg Oden began a trend of “one-and-done” players making short stays at OSU. The team’s familiarity with one another is something coach Thad Matta knows is important.
“Repetition builds confidence in my mind,” Matta said. “I think that’s the beauty of seeing guys that have been in the program for more than one or two years. Now, there’s not a lot that they’re going to see that’s going to be new to them.”
Even though the season has yet to begin, Matta said he has already noticed an improvement in his team’s ability to recognize certain situations on the court — a recognition that, because of the youth of his previous teams, was not there in the past.
“These guys have played a lot of basketball together,” Matta said. “They’ve got a pretty good feel for what other guys can do. So, from that standpoint, that carries some clout for us.”
Both David Lighty and Nikola Kecman return this year after seeing their previous season cut short because of injury.
Kecman, a sophomore, played in only one game last season before tearing his ACL in practice.
Lighty, who broke his foot in the team’s seventh game last season, is now a redshirt junior coming into his fourth year at OSU. He is considered by many on the team to be the Buckeyes’ vocal leader and will make his biggest impact on the defensive end.
“Dave is a great player and a great leader,” senior Kyle Madsen said. “One of the best things he does is play defense and talk on defense. He’s a really loud guy who brings everyone together.”
Though it was difficult for him to watch from the bench last year, Lighty said it was his absence that allowed for others to gain valuable experience.
“I dropped off and everyone stepped up their game and came ready to play,” Lighty said. “It’s going to be really good for us.”
As Lighty and Kecman make their returns, junior Dallas Lauderdale will fill the vacancy on the injury report. Lauderdale, who was projected as the Buckeyes’ starting center, broke a bone in his hand during a preseason practice and is not expected to be healthy in time for the season opener.
He will be replaced by senior Kyle Madsen and sophomore Zisis Sarikopoulos until he is able to return.
Buckeyes begin season nationally ranked
For just the second time in Thad Matta’s career in Columbus, the Buckeyes found themselves ranked in the preseason Top 25.
OSU begins the season at No. 16 in the preseason AP Poll and is one of six Big Ten teams ranked by the AP to start the year.
The Buckeyes are No. 17 in the Coaches’ Poll, one of five Big Ten teams ranked in the Top 25.
Matta’s first OSU team to be ranked at the start of the year entered the 2006-07 season ranked as high as fourth. The Buckeyes went on to win both the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships, and finished as the national runner up.
Turner earns preseason All-Conference honors; team projected to finish third
Junior Evan Turner, who averaged a conference-best 17.3 points per game a season ago, was named the preseason All-Big Ten team by the media.
Turner, Purdue’s Robbie Hummel, Penn State’s Talor Battle, Michigan’s Manny Harris and Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas, all juniors, were tabbed as the conference’s best players headed into the season.
Lucas, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, was projected by the media to retain the title, and was named the Preseason Player of the Year.
Likewise, Lucas’ Spartans are projected to repeat last year’s regular season conference championship. The Buckeyes, who finished last year in a tie for fourth in the conference, are projected to finish third, behind Michigan State and Purdue.
Roller coaster non-conference schedule
Before beginning Big Ten play at the end of December, the Buckeyes will play 12 teams from out of conference, nine of which will be played at home.
The Buckeyes’ non-conference home schedule doesn’t look to be much of a challenge.
The home schedule includes only one team from a major conference in Florida State, and is filled with the likes of Lipscomb and Cleveland State, among others.
Away from Columbus, however, the Buckeyes will be put to the test.
OSU will play both North Carolina and either California or Syracuse as a part of the 2K Sports Classic in New York City. Along with a trip to Indianapolis to play Butler, the Buckeyes will be pitted against three teams ranked in the preseason Coaches’ Poll Top 25.
“With the schedule like that you have a chance to play teams from other conferences that are high powered and that we may meet in the NCAA tournament,” senior P.J. Hill said.
“[After our non-conference games] we’ll know where we stand as a ball club and as individual players so I think that’s going to be a great test for us.”
The Buckeyes begin play Wednesday with an exhibition game against Walsh before getting the season officially underway Monday against Alcorn State.