You might have missed this if you were staying off the internet for the weekend — and after the Ohio State-Penn State game nobody would have blamed you — but Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings on Sunday.
The top five shouldn’t surprise any college basketball fan, as Duke, Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina grabbed the top spots. Wisconsin, the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, was the top ranked squad in the Big Ten. That’s not a surprise either, given who the Badgers return.
But you know who was second among Big Ten teams?
The Buckeyes are ranked 13th in the preseason rankings, ahead of stalwarts like Michigan State (14), Purdue (15), Indiana (16) and Michigan (31). They’re ranked ahead of any major non-conference game Ohio State has except for Virginia (7).
Right now, the Buckeyes are projected to finish with a 23-8 record, including an 11-7 Big Ten slate. That should be more than good enough to get the Buckeyes back to the NCAA Tournament after missing it last season, and potentially good enough to get a healthy seed for the opening round.
You won’t find many national experts that high on the Buckeyes. ESPN’s most recent mock bracket, from June, had Ohio State as one of the last four teams in the field. Athlon picked them to finish seventh in the Big Ten. Ohio State wasn’t in the top four team listed in the Big Ten preseason Coaches Poll. The list goes on. And Ohio State’s performance from last season may not do much to generate confidence.
Are Pomeroy’s metrics right? Is it possible we’re all missing something about this Ohio State basketball team?
It’s certainly possible. The Buckeyes may have been wracked by transfers over last season, but the core of last year’s team all returns. The top six players from last year’s squads in terms of minutes are all back, and which includes virtually all of Ohio State’s scoring, rebounding, and more.
After fielding one of the youngest teams in the country a year ago, the Buckeyes project to start four upperclassmen, with the lone sophomore, Jaquan Lyle, has reportedly started camp in substantially better shape. If Ohio State’s shooting and ballhandling become even marginally more consistent, the Buckeyes should have a solid six-man rotation, even by upper level Big Ten standards.
While the returnees are clearly the main story, it’s possible Ohio State’s newcomers may have a big impact as well. Everybody we talked to at Big Ten Media Day, from Thad Matta to Keita Bates-Diop, raved about new JUCO transfer point guard C.J. Jackson. Jackson provides a different look from Lyle, with a playmaking focus. Even if he’s only plays a handful of minutes a game, a pass-first guard who can stay out of foul trouble could do wonders for Ohio State’s efficiency.
The Buckeyes will also be joined by Micah Potter, who has also earned praise from the coaching staff. Potter gives Ohio State something they haven’t had the last few seasons, a true floor-stretching option at the 4 or 5 spot. Potter might not be able to defend big men at the Big Ten level for long stretches yet, but just having a new look for stretches may open things up for Marc Loving and Jae’Sean Tate.
The argument for an improved, perhaps dramatically so Ohio State team is out there. I’m not sure I’d personally throw Ohio State up as a top 20 team right now, but the potential is there, if Buckeyes can do what others have struggled over the last few seasons, make marketable improvements from year to year.
KenPom isn’t the only one out on this limb, by the way. Jon Rothstein recently added the Buckeyes to his list of five teams who could overachieve.
I guess that means that the buzz around the Buckeyes is now officially palpable.