We are less than 12 hours from game time for the Final Four in New Orleans, so it is time to get to the last of the Final Four teams. While I think I Kentucky is clearly the best, Ohio State has had a fine season and beat top-seeded Syracuse to make it to the Super Dome. Much like their opponent – Kansas, the Buckeyes lost quite a bit of talent. Unlike the Jayhawks, expectations were still sky high for the team from the Big Ten.
While Deshaun Thomas certainly took advantage of his opportunity and Jared Sullinger plugged along despite some injuries, the team was let down by its latest class of recruits. None of the first year players took on even a medium sized role with the team, so the Buckeyes only have four or five dependable players. This is a fine situation for Jousters who can easily peg which Buckeyes they should play.
The 6-foot-7 sophomore showed that his per minute scoring numbers as a freshman (7.5 points in 14.0 minutes) were no fluke. He jumped into a starting role and provided 16.1 points in 31.6 minutes. Thomas has a variety of offensive weapons in his tool belt. He can hit threes (35.5% from downtown) and he can crash the boards. In the game at Kansas on Dec. 10, he had 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting. The Jayhawks may put Thomas Robinson on him some, and Thomas may be too quick for the 6-foot-9 strongman. If Kansas tries Travis Releford, Thomas may be able to post up. He may be the most capable offensive player in the Final Four.
If 17.6 points and 9.1 rebounds can be considered disappointing, then Sullinger has a very high basement. The 6-foot-9 sophomore is a bull around the basket, but has enough touch to score on a variety of back-to-the-basket moves. Sullinger also has passing skills to take advantage of double teams, but the Buckeyes do not have the arsenal of three-point shooter that they did a season ago. Kansas will counter Sullinger with Jeff Withey, their seven-foot shot blocker extraordinaire, but Withey won’t be able to hold down the Buckeye wide body by himself. Sullinger has scored at least 18 points in his last three games and you can expect him to get the ball a lot.
Buford’s senior season was expected to be his coming out party. He hit 44.2% of his threes as a junior and his three-point percentage had improved in each of his three seasons in Columbus. As a senior, the 6-foot-6 guard has struggled. He converted a career-low 35.1% of his threes and provided 14.4 points for the third straight season. In his last three tournament games against Gonzaga, Cincinnati, and Syracuse, Buford has only made 24.2% (8-for-33) of his field goals and 28.6% (4-for-14) of his threes. If he can manage to hit even 40% of his shots, Ohio State will have a good shot to win this game.
Smith’s play in the NCAA tournament is perhaps the nicest surprise and the biggest reason why the Buckeyes are in the Final Four. The sophomore has raised his level of play, especially against Cincinnati and Syracuse, to give Ohio State that fifth player to worry about. He scored 35 points in his previous two games and hit 60% of his three-pointers (6-for-10). Kansas has enough perimeter defenders to give Smith at least a hand in his face, but he could see double-digit points for the third straight game.
Craft has almost become overpraised for his on-ball defense. He is quite good, but he is not worlds above a player like Releford. I guess commentators need something to point to since Craft is not a great scorer. He did provide 17 points to equal his season high in the second round win over Gonzaga, but only had five points in the win over the Orange. He attempted just three shots and none from beyond the arc before fouling out in the last minute of the game. Craft will be on the court because the Buckeyes do not have a reliable backup.
The top five players for the Buckeyes score just a shade under 80% of the team’s points (63.6 of 80.2), which doesn’t leave many shot opportunities for the bench. Coach Thad Matta has never been one to develop much depth, but that is fairly common in college basketball. Weatherspoon, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, saw some playing time through January, but has only appeared in six games in the last two months. He has not scored since Feb. 7.
Ravenel was the spot starter for the Buckeyes when Sullinger missed two games in December, including the game against Kansas. He did score 11 points in the win over Texas-Pan American and had nine points in his two other starts. While Ravenel has appeared in every game this season, he has only scored six points in his last five games. Only terrible foul trouble to Sullinger and Thomas would make him a worthy start.
McDonald is a 6-foot-8 freshman center. Since Big Ten play started, he has only appeared for 17 minutes – six of which were against Nebraska.
Sibert played quite a bit in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but has dropped off the radar in the last two months. The 6-foot-4 sophomore only hit 26% of his threes when he did receive playing time.
Of the freshmen that came aboard in 2011-12, Ross was expected to provide some support for Sullinger and Thomas. It didn’t happen. He never played more than seven minutes in any game and his career high stands at five points. He has not played during the NCAA tournament.
There were rumors that Scott would be a starter for the Buckeyes, but that did not materialize. It would have been interesting to see Scott and Craft, two non-scorers play at the same time. As it is, Scott backs up Craft and played 47 minutes against Loyola, Gonzaga, and Cincinnati. He scored four points.
Like Scott, Thompson gets some playing time in each game, but rarely scores. He has appeared in every game this season, but his high scoring total was eight points scored on Dec. 14 against South Carolina Upstate. He has scored four points in the Big Dance.
Williams is another member of the large Buckeye freshman class. He played nine minutes against Syracuse when Sullinger and Ravenel got early fouls. Williams had three points, which equaled his production from the previous nine games.
Rogers transferred from Christian Brothers school in Memphis and will be eligible for the 2012-13 season.