Ohio State team capsule: Aaron Craft takes the spotlight


The Buckeyes lost their leading scorer but return just about everyone else and will be in good shape for a deep tournament run this season.

With the way the West Region fell apart at the seams in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, it looked like the Ohio State Buckeyes were poised for another trip to the Final Four. But then they were surprised by the Wichita State Shockers and the dream ended at the Elite Eight. A majority of the team is back for another go at the NCAA Championship, and the Buckeyes have all the pieces to make a deep run.

2013 Record: 29-8, 13-5 Big Ten

2013 Postseason: Lost in Elite Eight to Wichita State

Key Returnees: Aaron Craft (10.0 ppg, 4.6 apg), Lenzelle Smith Jr. (9.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), LaQuinton Ross (8.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg), Sam Thompson (7.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg)

Key Losses: Deshaun Thomas (declared for draft), Evan Ravenel (graduated)

Key Additions: Marc Loving, Kameron Williams

2013-14 Outlook:

Just taking a look at who the Buckeyes lost and who the Buckeyes kept and it seems pretty clear that Ohio State is poised to be one of the best teams in the nation next year. Losing Deshaun Thomas hurts, a lot, and coach Thad Matta will have to find someone to fill his scoring void, but there are plenty of candidates available to pick up the slack.

LaQuinton Ross' 8.3 points per game average is a bit deceiving, as he showed during March Madness that he can step up and carry his team when needed. Excluding the blowout win over Iona in the second round, Ross averaged 17.6 points in the Buckeyes' last three contests.

Matta ran eight players deep last season, and much of the wealth was spread around the team. Thomas led the team in both points and rebounds, but after that everyone pitched in. The Buckeyes return four of their top six rebounders and five of their top seven scorers.

Aaron Craft is also back to lead the Buckeyes, and they will need the leadership of their senior point guard. Craft wasn't called on to score as much as other top-flight point guards, but he was a defensive lockdown. Craft lost out on his second consecutive Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award to Victor Oladipo, but his stats tell his story. He was second in the conference in steals per game and fourth in defensive rating.

Marc Loving is still growing into his body and will need to put a bit more weight on before he can hold his own for an entire game with the rest of the Big Ten bruisers underneath the rim, but the investment Matta made in Loving (he was chasing him when he was just a freshman) might have paid off as Loving is considered the best prospect out of Ohio.

Bottom Line:

Losing the leading scorer is tough, and for the Buckeyes to succeed this year they will have to find someone to fill Thomas' shoes. He accounted for 28 percent of the Buckeyes' 70.2 points per game last season, but if one or two players step up and help fill that role then Ohio State will be fine. The Buckeyes are a veteran team with the proper amount of youth mixed in and should find their way to the NCAA Tournament once again.

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