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Top 25 Countdown: No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes

Oct 25, 2012, 12:00 PM EDT

Final Four - Ohio State v Kansas Getty Images

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 31-8, 13-5 Big Ten (t-1st); Lost in the Final Four to Kansas

Head Coach: Thad Matta

Key Losses: Jared Sullinger, William Buford

Newcomers: Amedeo Della Valle

Projected Lineup:

- G: Aaron Craft, Jr.
- G: Lenzelle Smith Jr, Jr.
- F: Sam Thompson, So.
- F: Deshaun Thomas, Jr.
- C: Amir Williams, So.
- Bench: LaQuinton Ross, So.; Evan Ravenel, Sr., Shannon Scott, So.

Outlook: Thad Matta’s team is going to have their work cut out for them this season. Not only are they losing William Buford, who spent the last four seasons as one of the nation’s most consistently underrated wing scorers, but Jared Sullinger also made the decision to head to the NBA. And as much as it will hurt to lose a guy that averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, what will be even more difficult for the Buckeyes to adjust to is not having a post presence that commands a double-team every single time he touches the ball.

The past two years, everything Ohio State has done offensively was built around Sullinger’s presence on the blocks. It will be quite the adjustment without him.

That’s not to say that Ohio State doesn’t have any talent left on their roster, because that certainly isn’t the case. In fact, depending on where you are looking, Matta has two preseason all-americans at his disposal.

The first name is one that everyone in the country should be familiar with by now: Aaron Craft. Craft has spent two his first two years in Columbus reminding us what the point guard position used to be played like. He’s a pretty good shooter, he’s a capable penetrator and he’s certainly able to create shots off the dribble, but his real strength is two-fold — Craft is an absolutely tenacious on-the-ball defender, to the point that he can change a game with the way that he applies ball-pressure, and he’s an ideal facilitator. Not to be overly cliche, but Craft is a coach on the floor that understands what each member of his team is supposed to be doing and can get the ball where it needs to be and when it needs to be there. It sounds simple, but it is a vital skill to have.

Craft is joined by Deshaun Thomas, who, for the first time in his collegiate career, will be the focal point of Ohio State’s offensive attack. Thomas has always been able to score the ball, and even averaged 15.9 points last season, but it will be interesting to see what happens when he also becomes to focal point of a defensive game-plan every night. Will he be a willing passer? Will he be able to wait for shot opportunities within the flow of the offense, or is he going to end up forcing the issue to often?

It will be interesting to see how Matta uses Thomas. The past two years, he’s been primarily a perimeter option, which was to his advantage as Thomas was mostly guarded by power forwards that were unable to stay with him on the perimeter. With Sullinger gone, will the 6-foot-7 combo-forward see more post touches?

Beyond those two, Ohio State has plenty of talent, but also plenty of question marks.

The biggest issue that Matta will need to address is where he finds secondary scoring options. Craft has never really been an offensive-minded player, but he will need to make that more of a focus this season. That still won’t be enough. Two guys that see primed for the role: Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross. Smith put together some big games in big moments — he had 28 in a win over Indiana, 17 and 12 boards in a win against Michigan, 35 combined points against Syracuse and Kansas in the NCAA tournament — but he was obscenely streaky last year, averaging just 6.8 points on the season.

Ross is a big-time talent. At one point in his early high school career, Ross was considered to be the best prospect in the country. But he’s had a myriad of issues since then and has never quite lived up to the expectations. He only saw action in nine games as a freshman, and even took to twitter to voice his displeasure with the lack of playing time.

Those two need to be able to provide somewhere around 22-24 points on a nightly basis for the Buckeyes.

There rest of Ohio State’s rotation will be made up of a trio of sophomores — athletic small forward Sam Thompson, backup point guard Shannon Scott and promising big man Amir Williams — as well as veteran center Evan Ravenel.

Predictions?: Ohio State has two proven stars on their roster, surrounded by a slew of highly ranked recruits that are yet to prove themselves on the collegiate level. Does that remind you of anyone? Like, I don’t know, Kansas from last season? This year’s Buckeyes and last year’s Jayhawks are quite different teams, but the situations are eerily reminiscent. We know how good Craft and Thomas can be, and if they live up to expectations while the Ohio State role players can step up and fill their assigned roles the same way Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey and Travis Releford did for Kansas last season, Matta’s team will be just fine.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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