When the star player you have relied upon so heavily leaves your program, you’re left saying, “Well, who are we now?” Ohio State is a team that finds themselves in this predicament. The departure of Jared Sullinger along with sharpshooter William Buford has left the Buckeyes in an odd place. Sullinger, in just two years became a staple of Thad Matta’s offense. Last year’s Ohio State squad made it to the Final Four where they fell short to Kansas. This year, Ohio State find themselves in a top heavy Big Ten with three teams in the top five (Indiana at 1, Ohio State at 4, and Michigan at 5). Matta also found himself in a tough spot with limited scholarships, bringing in only one freshman this year.
That freshman, Amendeo Della Valle from Italy, is looking to fill an empty role. While Della Valle is a project of sorts he should not be over looked. At 6’5” he is decently sized for a guard, with ball handling skills and a deadly jumper. Teammate Lenzelle Smith Jr. says teams will need to guard Della Valle much like Big Ten Career 3-Point Leader Jon Diebler, saying, “Anything wide open, he’s going to make it.” Della Valle will see early minutes due to a strong basketball IQ matching his strong skills.
Matching the contributions of Della Valle, returning Buckeyes Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft look to lead the team and make the country say “Sullinger who?” Deshaun Thomas is more than just Sullinger’s shadow. Last season he averaged 15.4 PPG and shot 34% behind the 3PT line. Thomas can score in a variety of ways, he’s a monster in transition, powering down offensive boards and put backs, and a crazy jumper for a big man. Also returning is Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Craft. Craft is arguably one of (if not the-best) on-ball defenders in the country. Craft averaged 2.5 steals per game and don’t be surprised when he surpasses that this season. He is also a returning point guard and veteran floor general.
The issues that face OSU this season are daunting and easily overcome at the same time. First, the Buckeyes need to find scoring help for Thomas. Thomas may go for 20 a night but other than that the question remains: who is going to help? Craft is more of an assist machine and defensive fiend. Returners Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott went 1-32 last season…total. Those numbers aren’t going to help anyone. Which leads into the second issue, depth. While Thad Matta has some experience returning the bench, has little to none.
Ohio State has few tests before entering Big Ten play; look for a lethal Duke squad to take care of business in Durham. An easy early schedule can build upon a young squad’s experience as they go into a strong Big Ten. Another story to be on the lookout for, watch through the season as all the Big Ten teams beat up on each other. This years Ohio State team should at all costs make the NCAA Tournament. On top of that, Thomas has all capabilities of being a Player of the Year candidate, if he can find help in Craft, Thompson or Della Valle, THE Ohio State University may be right back in the Final Four. Ohio State opens up tonight against Marquette on the USS Yorktown at the Carrier Classic on NBC Sports at 7pm.