Top 64 Countdown: No. 29 Ohio State

Head coach: Thad Matta
Last season: 35-4, 15-1 in Big Ten.
Postseason: Earned automatic bid to NCAA Tournament as Big Ten Tournament champion. Lost to Florida in the national championship game, 84-75.
2007-08 breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

Backcourt

Jamar Butler returns to the point after moving to off-guard for a season to play alongside freshman phenom Mike Conley Jr. With Conley's early departure for the NBA, the Buckeyes will turn matters back over to Butler. He was second to Conley in assists and led the team in 3-pointers last season (76). He is capable of running the team, though it's fair to believe his 3-point shooting (37.6 percent) - or at least the volume of 3s - will suffer.

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Jamar Butler must take over the leadership role for Ohio State.

Probable Starting Five
G Jamar Butler (8.5 ppg, 3.6 apg)
G David Lighty (3.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
C Othello Hunter (5.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
F Kosta Koufos (freshman; Rivals.com five-star prospect)
F Jon Diebler (freshman; Rivals.com four-star prospect)
Top Reserves
F Matt Terwilliger (2.2 ppg)
G Evan Turner (freshman; Rivals.com four-star prospect)
G P.J. Hill (junior-college transfer)
He'll be joined in the backcourt by sophomore David Lighty, who was overshadowed as a freshman by Greg Oden, Conley and Daequan Cook - all of whom departed for the NBA after just one season. Lighty, a terrific on-ball defender, will be asked to play a major role this season. After an outstanding summer, he may be ready for the increased responsibility. He was named captain of the U.S. team at the 19-Under World Championships in Serbia and led the team in field-goal percentage (68 percent). Lighty averaged 8.7 points in 23.5 minutes per game, and he came away with more confidence. "I got to see all of these great players from around the world," Lighty said. "I saw things that I can add to my game. A lot of people don't get that experience. I think it will help me out a lot."

Junior-college transfer P.J. Hill figures to see his fair share of minutes as well. His specialty is dribble penetration, and he'll create opportunities for Lighty and Butler to shoot from the outside.

Frontcourt

You can't make up for the loss of Oden. His defensive presence, rebounding and low-post scoring terrorized the Big Ten. Othello Hunter (6-8, 225) takes over in the post. He started the first eight games last season while Oden recovered from wrist surgery. Hunter averaged 6.0 rebounds during the stretch. He'll have to do at least that for the Buckeyes to be successful. He also blocked 41 shots last season, second to Oden. Hunter is capable of pushing that number past 70 with extended playing time.

The impact freshman this season should be 7-footer Kosta Koufos, a five-star prospect ranked the No. 3 center in the country. He'll probably start as the 4-man, and he's extremely skilled offensively. Koufos is an excellent shooter, even beyond the 3-point line. He'll play some in the high post, too, where he'll be able to pass to cutters and teammates spotting up for 3-pointers.

Freshman Jon Diebler is the probable starter at small forward. He's a tremendous spot-up shooter with a high basketball IQ. If anyone can benefit from the dribble penetration of Butler and Hill, it's Diebler.

Matt Terwilliger (6-9, 245) will be the first man off the bench in the frontcourt. He averaged a little more than 10 minutes per game last season.

Offense

Coach Thad Matta uses a lot of high ball screens in his offense, and that doesn't figure to change. Butler and Hill will be the guys coming off the screens, looking for Diebler and Koufos to face up and shoot from the perimeter. Hill will penetrate and get to the rim. He'll also create opportunities on the block for Hunter and Koufos. Expect the Buckeyes to still shoot plenty of 3-pointers and to try to get out in transition.

Defense

Matta prefers to play man-to-man. There's a chance he could utilize more zone looks if Hunter and Koufos are on the floor at the same time.

Outlook with postseason forecast
Is this a rebuilding year or a reloading year? The Buckeyes will be young, but they were young last season when they made a run to the national championship game. Yes, a lot of prominent reasons for that run are gone, and this class is not the equal of last season's. Still, there is reason for optimism. Butler is Big Ten-tested and can handle himself at the most important position on the court. Lighty is ready for a breakout season. Hunter can hold his own defensively and on the boards. The key to a return to the NCAA Tournament will be the freshman class. Matta would have preferred to redshirt a couple of the newcomers, but that's not an option with so many early departures after last season. If Koufos and Diebler live up to expectations, the Buckeyes should win 20-22 games in a down year for the Big Ten. We expect Ohio State to be back in the NCAA Tournament.

Shoes to Fill

C Greg Oden (15.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 105 blocks), G Mike Conley Jr. (11.3 ppg, 6.1 apg). Even though the shoes barely had a chance to get broken in, they still are monstrous to fill.

Must Step Up

G Jamar Butler. Butler is the only returnee who averaged more than 18 minutes per game last season. This is his team. Lighty will be expected to make a dramatic statistical improvement, but Butler will be the glue responsible for meshing the older players with the newcomers.

Impact Newcomer

Koufos. The expectation level is higher for him than any other newcomer. He might be a 7-footer, but he won't play close to the basket nearly as often as Oden did.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 64. Coming tomorrow: No. 28.


 

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