Preseason Top 25 + 1 Countdown

CBSSports.com College Basketball Staff
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By Jeff Goodman | College Basketball Insider

Coach: Thad Matta

Years at school: 13 (342-90 all-time)

Best NCAA Tournament finish: NCAA Final Four (2007, 2012)

Last season's record: 31-8 (lost to Kansas in the Final Four)

Vital Info: No. 17 Ohio State
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Notable returnees from last season: Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Evan Ravenel, Amir Williams, LaQuinton Ross, Trey McDonald

Notable losses from last season: Jared Sullinger, William Buford

Notable newcomers: Amedeo Della Valle

Projected starters: G: Lenzelle Smith G: Aaron Craft; F: Sam Thompson; F: Deshaun Thomas; C: Amir Williams

Why this team will be good: The Buckeyes still have Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas. That's one of the elite point guards in the country and also one of the top scoring threats in the nation -- and both have experience. Craft will need to be more assertive on the offensive end, but one thing you can count on with the heady floor leader is he's a lock-down defender and he makes those around him better. Thomas' role will be expanded this season with the loss of Sullinger and Buford -- and he's ready for a go-to role. Thad Matta had depth on last year's team, but he opted to go with a short rotation for much of the season. However, Lenzelle Smith played long minutes as the fifth starter -- and reserves such as Thompson, Williams, Scott, Ravenel and Ross all have a chance to gain more prominent roles. Ross is a tremendous natural talent who missed the first part of last season due to academics, but he has the ability to play at the next level.

Why this team might disappoint: If Craft can't give more to the team on the offensive end, the Buckeyes may have difficulty scoring. Ross, as we noted, is extremely talented -- but the key is whether his production will begin to match that potential. And Thomas is a potent scorer, but he'll need to make sure he makes good decisions and doesn't force the action. He's now the focal point of opposing defenses without Sullinger and Buford. The other major adjustment will be that there's not a guy down low that commands double-teams as there has been over the last couple years with Sullinger in the lineup. Williams has a chance to be a quality big man in the league, but it may take time -- and he's not nearly as skilled as Sullinger was on the low block.

Bottom line: There are as many question marks with this year's Buckeyes team as there has been in a few years. There's no bonafide dominant star, even though Craft and Thomas are both considered among the elite players at their respective positions. We know that Ohio State will be a Top 25 team and a lock to go to the NCAA tournament -- as it has done in six of the last seven seasons under Matta -- but no one quite knows whether the Buckeyes can make another run to the Final Four. It's difficult to discern because guys like Ross, Williams and Thompson are all unproven to this point. However, those guys all have talent. This team will rely heavily on Thomas' offense and Craft's direction and leadership. Besides that, it's anyone's guess who emerges. Someone will need to, because Craft won't ever be a big-time scorer and Thomas will need some help.

Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "They don't scare me like they have in the past. They've always had that stud -- whether it was Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger -- in the middle. This team will have to be different, more perimeter-oriented. I love Craft like everyone else, but I'm just not sure he'll have enough help. I think they'll be an upper-tier team in the Big Ten, but I don't see them fighting for the title."

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