If Jared Sullinger had entered the NBA draft after Ohio State's disappointing loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, no one would have blamed him. He very easily could have been the first pick, and he definitely would have signed a big contract (if there wasn't a lockout going on). Sullinger's decision to return for his sophomore season with the Buckeyes makes them heavy favorites to repeat as Big Ten Champions.
Thad Matta's rotation only went seven deep last year, and three of those seven were lost to graduation. Jon Diebler was a major factor on offense last year, and the Buckeyes will definitely miss last year's NCAA leader in three-point accuracy. David Lighty was a great perimeter defender as well as a threat to score. Dallas Lauderdale saw less playing time last year, but provided another big body on the inside to take some pressure off of Sullinger.
Jared Sullinger was arguably the most dominant big man in the nation last year. He averaged over 17 ppg and 10 rpg last year. He was very effective inside, shooting over 54% from the field. Sullinger also had a knack for getting to the line, and unlike a lot of big men who struggle with free throws, he connected on 70% of them. In addition to their star center, Ohio State has some pretty good players coming back.
Senior William Buford found open looks on the outside last year, and managed to knock down 44% of his three-point attempts. He also made opponents pay last year for fouling him by knocking down a solid 84% of his free throws. His 14 ppg were second on the team behind Sullinger.
Aaron Craft, the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year last year, returns to terrorize opposing guards. His defensive performance as a freshman filled the void left by Purdue's Chris Kramer as the Big Ten's most annoying and effective perimeter defender. He was also soild on the offensive end, leading the Buckeyes with almost five assists per game.
Buckyeye fans are hoping that Sophomore Deshaun Thomas can build on the promise that he showed on the offensive end last year. He was a scoring machine in high school, so he definitely has the potential to become a consistent scorer. Thomas will most likely improve on the defensive end as well, which will lead to more playing time.
As good as Sullinger and the other returnees are, the incoming freshman will make Ohio State a player on the national scene. Thad Matta has put together the #6 recruiting class in the country (according to the ESPN rankings), with four 4-star players and one 3-star player.
The jewel of his class at this point is Georgia's Mr. Basketball Shannon Scott, who should see significant minutes at point guard, either backing up Craft or playing alongside him. Scott joins fellow Buckeye recruit Amir Williams as McDonald's All-Americans. Williams is a 6'-10" center from Michigan who might burn opposing defenses who are keying on Sullinger. Rounding out the class are two four-star forwards in Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross, and three-star big man Trey McDonald, who has a similar build to Lauderdale.
Ohio State will be the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten this year. Anyone who picks a different team to win the conference is just being contrary. The Buckeyes return too many pieces from the team that won the conference outright by two games. Thad Matta also has an excellent incoming class who will help keep the rest of the Big Ten looking up at OSU in the standings.