Monday, October 20, 2003
Ohio State Basketball Preview
Healthy roster has Buckeyes hopeful
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS - Jim O'Brien missed Ohio State's basketball picture day last week, having had surgery two weeks prior to correct a disc problem in his neck.
It illustrated quite a contrast, for a snapshot of last season's team would have shown the coach as about the only healthy Buckeye.
After four consecutive NCAA Tournament trips, OSU weathered its injuries well enough to reach the NIT and extend its postseason streak to five seasons. That's the second-longest in school history, behind a 12-year run from 1982-93.
OSU AT A GLANCE
Coach: Jim O'Brien (119-72, seventh season; 354-289 overall)
2002-03: Finished 17-15, tied for eighth in Big Ten. Lost to Georgia Tech in the first round of the NIT
Lost: Sean Connolly, Brent Darby, Zach Williams, Emonte Jernigan, Nate Salley, Nick Sherman, Ugo Nwankwo.
Gained: Tony Stockman, J.J. Sullinger, Ivan Harris, Ricardo Billings, Nick Dials.
Possible starters: Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (PG), Tony Stockman (SG), J.J. Sullinger (SF), Terence Dials (PF), Velimir Radinovic (C).
Exhibition games: Nov. 7, vs. Coaches vs. Cancer All-Stars; Nov. 13, vs. EA Sports.
Regular-season opener: Nov. 21, at San Francisco.
Tickets: Call 1-800-GO-BUCKS.
Yet the NCAA Tournament is a goal again, thanks to O'Brien having what largely was unavailable to him last season:
Transfers Tony Stockman and J.J. Sullinger, former starters at Clemson and Arkansas, respectively. Ivan Harris, a McDonald's All-American. Ricardo Billings, who was academically ineligible. Terence Dials and Brandon Fuss-Cheat-
ham, who missed 26 and 10 games, respectively, to injuries.
"It's a totally different look from last year," Fuss-Cheatham said.
The loss of three of the top four scorers from last season is a reason this team has been slated for a middling Big Ten finish by most preseason magazines: sixth by Athlon, seventh by both Street & Smith's and Basketball News.
But The Sporting News ranks OSU No. 25 nationally and predicts a fourth-place league finish; Athlon also predicts an NCAA bid.
How good are the newcomers?
Stockman and Sullinger could start right away. Maybe Harris, too.
Stockman, a junior guard, will be the team's top 3-point threat. He made 155 3-pointers in two years at Clemson, shooting 37.3 percent from that range. Sullinger, a 6-foot-5 sophomore swingman, averaged 9.4 points as a part-time starter at Arkansas and is a left-handed slasher in the Michael Redd mold.
Harris, OSU's first McDonald's All-American in 11 years, is a 6-8 forward from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
Will this be a better shooting team?
It can't be worse. OSU shot just 41 percent last season, and its slowdown style resulted in a league-worst 61.8 scoring average in Big Ten games.
O'Brien will have six players competing for three guard spots in his perimeter-based offense, so he can afford to shuffle players in until he finds a hot hand.
The return of the 6-9 Dials, who set an OSU freshman record by connecting on 62.3 percent of his shots two seasons ago, will be a huge help inside.
Who will play in the post?
Velimir Radinovic, the 7-foot, 250-pound senior captain, is the starting center.
O'Brien tried a Radinovic-Dials rotation at center before Dials got hurt. If he goes with that again, it will be a sign of faith that Harris and 6-6 Shun Jenkins can tag-team at power forward. Or Dials might start alongside Radinovic.
What will be Matt Sylvester's role?
The 6-7 sophomore from Moeller started 16 games last season, averaging 5.7 points and 21.6 minutes. He'll compete for a starting spot, and his versatility means he can get time at three positions.
Shaun Smith, a fifth-year senior guard from Walnut Hills, has been elevated from walk-on to scholarship status this season.
What are the intangibles?
How O'Brien divvies up playing time and positions will be key, as will whether the Buckeyes can adjust to potentially a more up-tempo pace. The final component will be whether they can stay healthy.
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