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November 2, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 4 Ohio State

STRENGTHS: No roster in the Big Ten and few nationally have been as impacted by one-and-done players as Ohio State's, particularly with big men. Jared Sullinger, though, bucked the trend with his decision to stay in school for his sophomore season. Sullinger, a unanimous All-America last season, has lost 16 pounds and now weighs 264 pounds. Despite the weight loss, Sullinger hasn't lost the strong lower body that enabled him to push opponents around in the post. Sullinger also says he's better conditioned. That's a scary thought after he averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds last season. He drew so much attention down low last season that the result was open shots on the perimeter for his teammates. The responsibility for making those shots this season falls on William Buford, who made 51 3-pointers last season at a 44.2 percent rate; that was second in both categories to the since-departed Jon Diebler. Buford also can get the rim. With Diebler and David Lighty gone, Buford should have an even bigger role this season after averaging 14.4 points last season. Buford also averaged 3.9 rebounds and had 106 assists. PG guard Aaron Craft was the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman, but he still played 29.6 minutes per game. He'll set up Sullinger and Buford and also played good perimeter defense.

AT A GLANCE
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
C Jared Sullinger (6-9/280, Soph.)
F Deshaun Thomas (6-7/225, Soph.)
G William Buford (6-6/220, Sr.)
G Aaron Craft (6-2/190, Soph.)
G Jordan Sibert (6-4/185, Soph.)
KEY RESERVES
C Amir Williams (6-11/220, Fr.)
F Evan Ravenel (6-8/260, Jr.)
G Shannon Scott (6-1/180, Fr.)

THE FACTS
Coach: Thad Matta (8th season at Ohio State)
Last season's record: 34-3 overall, 16-2 in Big Ten (1st in league)
Postseason: Lost to Kentucky in NCAA tourney East Regional semifinal
Final regular-season RPI: 2nd
Last time didn't make NCAA field: 2009

WEAKNESSES: A year ago, Ohio State had three seniors who embraced their roles - Lighty as the do-everything wing and emotional leader, Diebler as the prolific 3-point threat and F Dallas Lauderdale as a bruiser in the paint who didn't mind if he didn't show up on the stat sheet. Sophomore F Deshaun Thomas will need to take up some of the scoring slack. He was a five-star prospect, but the Buckeyes didn't need him to be a star as a freshman. But he has to be an important contributor this season. G Jordan Sibert can shoot the 3-pointer and also slash to the basket. He was one of the odd men out in Ohio State's short rotation last season. Freshman Shannon Scott could give Ohio State some flexibility in the backcourt. He can play the point, enabling Craft to play off the ball if coach Thad Matta so chooses. Scott's dad, Charlie, starred at North Carolina in the 1970s and played in the NBA. Evan Ravenel, eligible after his transfer from Boston College, adds frontcourt depth, which is key with the absence of incoming freshman LaQuinton Ross. A four-star forward, Ross will miss the season as an academic non-qualifier. Touted freshman Amir Williams should take over Lauderdale's role.

[More on Ohio State: Go to BuckeyeGrove.com]

OVERVIEW: Ohio State spent stretches of last season as the nation's No. 1 team, earning the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The season ended in disappointment, though, with a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. This group is talented and many of the key players have a year's worth of experience, but last season's team was anchored by seniors and had impeccable chemistry. Still, with Sullinger, Craft and Buford, the Buckeyes have the talent to win another Big Ten title and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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