Bob Baptist is one of the best beat writers in the Big Ten. Baptist covers the Buckeyes for the Columbus Dispatch, on his blog Hoops & Scoops, as well as on his Twitter account. Baptist graciously agreed to answer some questions about this year’s Buckeyes team.
Ohio State had a mildly disappointing season last year in my opinion, although they were obviously limited by the David Lighty injury. What are the expectations in Columbus for the basketball team this year?
Very hard to gauge expectations at this point because all a vast majority of Buckeye fans care about right now is football. But I will those who stay attuned to hoops year-round are optimistic that Ohio State will be good enough and experienced enough to contend in a strong league. Michigan State and Purdue return a lot, but fans are eager to see what Ohio State can do with David Lighty back in the lineup. Biggest question on everyone’s mind is how the point and post positions will perform.
In my mind, Evan Turner is the best player in the conference. But I am very curious to see how he adapts to playing the point guard position. I have no doubt that he can play it but I’m not sure it’s best for him or the Buckeyes. What are your thoughts on Turner playing the one?
All I can go off is what I saw during the three exhibition games in Canada, and the Buckeyes ran very little half-court offense there because they were rebounding and running at will most possessions. When they did run sets, Turner was giving up the ball quickly (24-second clock) and using screens to get it back at the end of the possession so he could finish. So I wouldn’t necessarily look for him to be breaking down his man to get in the lane if that man is a true point; not to initiate the offense, anyway. It may not be the best position for him, but it is best for the team. No one else in the starting five can play the position, and Jeremie Simmons and P.J. Hill aren’t 30-minute guys, either.
Jon Diebler can shoot the three but despite his size he is very one dimensional. Is there any hope of him diversifying his game this year?
We can hope, but I didn’t see much evidence of it in Canada, and those were guys he should be able to take off the dribble. Diebler needs to pick his spots with the dribble drive, find a matchup he can exploit and do it more often than he has.
I think Will Buford has the potential to be 1st team all-Big Ten this year. He’s definitely got the athleticism and he can shoot it a little bit too. Am I crazy for thinking he’s the second best player on this team and probably the best pro prospect?
He’s the second-best scorer on this team, but he at this point is like Diebler, very one-dimensional, a stone-cold jump shooter coming off screens who needs to add a dribble-drive component. He could be helped if the offense can get out and run, because he’s very athletic and a good finisher in transition. He just doesn’t have the handle yet, from what I’ve seen, to transfer that to the half-court.
Easy one: Turner, Buford, Diebler, Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale.
Ohio State has one of the top starting fives in the league but I just don’t see the depth, especially with no incoming freshmen. Are there any viable options off the bench?
Very good question, and a potential Achilles’ heel if they have foul trouble or another injury like last season. Simmons needs to hit shots. Hill has worked hard on his game this summer after feeling his defensive lapse cost them the Siena game in the NCAA first round and he vows to be a producer at the point. He was very good in Canada, but we’ll have to see how he fares against big-boy competition. Walter Offutt could be the sleeper as he develops. He’s a smaller version of Lighty who can D up guards, attacks the rim with reckless abandon and has improved his shot. Zisis Sarikopoulos, who sat out last year after transferring from UAB, will have to spell Lauderdale and I have questions about him defensively because of his feet. But you can’t teach 7 foot.
What are the highlights of OSU’s non-conference schedule?
Plenty. They’ll play North Carolina and either California and Syracuse in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in New York, so that’s a pretty good Games 3 and 4. They also have Florida State at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Butler on the road in the finale of a four-game contract, and West Virginia on the road in a CBS game on a bye weekend in January. Bob Huggins got his long-awaited shot at Ohio State last year and whacked Ohio State 76-48, the Buckeyes’ worst loss in 11 seasons in Value City Arena and Thad Matta’s worst in nine years as a head coach. The Mountaineers, like the Buckeyes, return almost everyone. Look for blood on the floor in Morgantown.
Predicted record (non conference, and conference)?
Don’t hold me to this because I’m going to take one quick rip through the schedule and give you the numbers. But I’ll probably change my mind before the season starts and again before the conference starts. So . . . 25-6 or 24-7 and 14-4 or 13-5.
Most feared player in the Big Ten?
For now I’ll say Turner. But if JaJuan Johnson improves from sophomore to junior year as much as he did freshman to sophomore, look out. The kid could be a beast. And don’t forget that he got cut from the World University Games team, so he may be out to prove something.
Any last words?
I’m really looking forward to this season. The top seven or eight teams should be just as tightly bunched as last year, except I don’t expect Michigan State to separate itself the way it did because Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern should be better than they were. A lot of close games coming down to the final possessions. Great for writers on deadline.