Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 10/25/13
For more preseason coverage of the 2013-14 college basketball season, click here. Depending on who you ask, for the past three years Ohio State's Aaron Craft has either been the most underrated or overrated player in the country. The 6'2" guard is a defensive stopper, to be sure, but other than his 2.1 steals per game, his numbers (10 PPG, 4.6 APG, 41.7 FG%) aren't exactly eye-popping. No matter. Craft's supporters will tell you his contributions can't be measured by simple statistics. However, there is one number that may shed light on how much he has meant to this program: 94. That's how many games the Buckeyes have won in Craft's first three seasons, which have resulted in a Sweet 16, Final Four, and Elite Eight, respectively. Craft has averaged 31.9 minutes per game over those seasons, and while he wasn't always the biggest part of the team, he has always been a valuable asset. Now, though, this is truly Craft's team. However, he many not need to do much leading on a team that boasts two seniors and five juniors in its rotation. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., the team's other senior, will team up with Craft to make one of the nation's best backcourts defensively. Combined with Sam Thompson on the wing, the Buckeyes will drive opposing guards and wings crazy with their stout perimeter defense. The question is: what happens when opponents start pounding the ball inside against the Buckeyes? Their only true big men are 6'11" Amir Williams and 6'8" Trey McDonald. Even if you combine them into one super-person, Tramir McWilliams posted a stat line of 4.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 1.6 BPG in 24.1 minutes. These two won't provide much in the form of defense or rebounding, making it easy for the Buckeyes to get beat up on the block and on the glass. This lack of a significant inside presence will only put more pressure on guys like Craft, Smith, and Thompson to defend well, but coach Thad Matta should have confidence in them. Plus, Ohio State has Shannon Scott coming off the bench, who is capable of filling both Craft and Smith's roles. What happens when opponents start pounding the ball inside against the Buckeyes? But, the other question facing this team is: who is putting the ball in the basket? Last season, the team leaned heavily on All-Big Ten first teamer Deshaun Thomas (19.8 PPG). He was extremely consistent, reaching double-digits in points in every game and pouring in 20 or more in 17 of Ohio State's 37 contests. Smith and Thompson are certainly viable candidates to take over the alpha-dog role, but keep an eye on LaQuinton Ross. He's been maddeningly inconsistent, with nearly as many games under five points (10) as he had with double-digits (13). But he's the team's most gifted player and has shown enough flashes of brilliance to suggest that he could be Ohio State's leading scorer. Ross really found his groove in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 15 points in four games. If he can roll over his performance at the end of last season into this one, watch out. More specifically for the offense, the Buckeyes will have to find a consistent threat from long range. Thomas accounted for a third of Ohio State's three-point attempts, and while Craft, Smith, and Ross all made their fair share of threes, they'll have to step it up. That's what it's going to take for the Buckeyes this year; everyone will have to step up their games collectively. As I said in our Michigan preview, the top of the Big Ten will once again be crowded. I could see the Buckeyes finishing anywhere between first and fourth, and getting a similar seed in the NCAA Tournament. But, if there's anything this group of veterans has proven so far, it's that they know how to win games.
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