Key Losses: G Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (5.1 ppg, 3.1 apg), G Tony Stockman (12.0 ppg, 2.4 apg)
Salt Lake City, UT/Brighton
Columbus, OH/Transfer from Bowling Green
Fort Wayne, IN/Redlands (OK) CC
Mayes is a supremely slippery and skilled player, although he doesn't appear to be a true lead guard ready to overtake the point from Jamar Butler, at least not right away. Lewis has a smooth shot effective to the arc and is adept at getting into the lane and drawing fouls on the drive. As a sophomore at Bowling Green, he led the MAC in free throws made. Bell needs polish but still could jump into the rotation right away.
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You think Thad Matta is under pressure trying to follow up a surprising 20-win season? Try being Vince O'Brien.
Ohio State's well-respected trainer is going to have to heal up the sore ankles and muscle strains with a sense of urgency this season, because the Buckeyes will brave the Big Ten waters with just 10 scholarship players.
"Everybody is going to have to play a part and be available to us," says senior center Terence Dials, the most irreplaceable cog in the machine. "We have to make sure everybody stays healthy because that will be an important part of our success next year."
And make no mistake -- the Buckeyes are intent on a no-excuses campaign.
After two seasons that added up to breakeven, OSU returned to the national discussion last year in part because of the Matta-directed breakthrough, but also because of a spate of off-court allegations that triggered an NCAA investigation and led to the firing of coach Jim O'Brien. School officials decided last December to ban the Buckeyes from any postseason play, which meant the 20 wins went for naught.
Ohio State is still awaiting a final NCAA ruling that should come down right before the upcoming season. Nothing is expected to affect the program going forward, which means the team's four outgoing seniors can end their careers with a date to the Big Dance.
"We haven't gotten a lot of respect the last few years, and maybe we didn't deserve it," says forward Matt Sylvester, one of the four seniors. "But I think people know we're serious."
The inside game begins and ends with Dials, who led the team in minutes played, scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage and blocked shots last year. If he can continue to be rock solid inside and stay out of foul trouble, he can carry the load as well as any big man in the Big Ten.
The burden on Dials to produce around the basket is extra heavy because OSU's returning power forwards, Sylvester and Ivan Harris, are offensive-minded players who excel away from the basket.
Dials will need some help on the boards. The Buckeyes had a negative rebounding margin last season and desperately need more production on the glass.
Two young Bucks, sophomore Matt Terwilliger and freshman Brayden Bell, will have a golden opportunity to prove they can hold up inside and merit substantial playing time.
While Tony Stockman and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham became more reliable players in their senior seasons, the sentiment is the Buckeyes can be more dynamic in the backcourt this season. Matta has been pining for a guard with blow-by ability, and he found one in junior college transfer Sylvester Mayes, a cat-quick performer with the ball who possesses a scorer's mentality.
The other new face is a transfer from Bowling Green who sat out last year, Columbus native Ron Lewis. He was so impressive in practice last season his teammates won't be surprised if he immediately becomes the leading scorer on the team. "I've got a lot of people on the sidelines raising my head up high and just rooting for me," Lewis says of the homecoming. "It's a lot of pressure, but I can handle it."
Lewis will have time to adjust. The wing positions feature returning starters and seniors in J.J. Sullinger and Je'Kel Foster, while sophomore Jamar Butler can handle the point.
Sullinger played the best basketball of his career in the second half of last season as he eased into Matta's four-out, one-in system, which allowed him more driving lanes and passing options. Butler and Foster developed a rapport subbing into games together off the bench and eventually wrestling the starting guard spots for the final 12 contests of the season.
While depth is an issue and the schedule has its usual challenges, the Buckeyes are hungry to return to both contention in the Big Ten and a rightful seat in the NCAA tournament. Armed with a belief in their coaches and each other, they expect to do just that -- through hard work, of course.
"We've got to continue to do everything -- we've got to shoot the ball better, we've got to play better defense, we've got to take care of the ball better," Sullinger says. "If we do all those things and all the little things -- diving on the floor for loose balls and all that stuff -- we'll be all right. If we don't, we'll be in trouble."