Thad Matta's program nearly capped the 2011-12 season with an appearance in the national title game. But late struggles against Kansas shortened Ohio State’s Final Four experience.
It was one of the few stumbles for a Buckeyes team that earned a slice of the Big Ten regular-season title a few weeks before its Final Four run.
It’s a new day, however, for Matta’s squad. Jared Sullinger, arguably the best post player in America for the past two seasons, is in the NBA now. William Buford, one of the most productive players in the program’s history, is gone, too. Two reserves (Jordan Sibert and J.D. Weatherspoon) transferred in the offseason.
But Matta still returns a crew that should crack the top 15 once preseason rankings are announced.
ESPN.com recently caught up with Matta to discuss his expectations and concerns for the 2012-13 campaign.
How will you move forward without Jared Sullinger?
Thad Matta: We’ve had some great players leave this program. ... The thing I always tell the guys is, "We don’t need you to be Jared Sullinger. We need you to be who you are. We need you to be very effective with what you’re capable of doing." That’s always been the approach. Do we maybe change a little bit the way we’re playing? Yeah, we probably will. But I think one of the biggest fallacies a young man can have is "Hey, I’m going to get his points or I’m going to get his rebounds. I got it." It just never works that way.
How will point guard Aaron Craft’s return ease the transition?
TM: It’s a tremendous advantage for us, having Aaron back. Two years into the program, he’s won 65 games, he’s won two Big Ten championships in his time here. ... From his freshman year, he played a certain role, last year he played a certain role and I think the beauty is guys are looking to him to even expand his role a little bit more. The way he competes. The way he plays the game, you want a guy like Aaron Craft leading your basketball team. So I think the players have the utmost respect for him and everything he does. So it kind of makes it an easy follow.
Where does Deshaun Thomas need to improve most as the team’s new leader?
TM: He has to rebound. He has to do a better job of rebounding the basketball. And I know he can do that because he’s a tremendous offensive rebounder. Now, we’ve got to get him to where he’s rebounding on the defensive end as well. ... I’ve seen him now for two years and the commitment he’s making to the defensive end has been tremendous. I think his rebounding will be a nice touch to his game.
What are your expectations for Amir Williams?
TM: I think Amir had what may not have appeared to have been a significant role on this team last year, but in our eyes, he did. We saw a lot of growth with him. He played some valuable minutes in high-level games for us. In essence, what we need Amir to do is obviously be a great rebounder and have a great presence on the defensive end. He can really, really block shots and then offensively, scoring around the basket. He’s shown us that he can step out and knock down a 12- to 15-foot jump shot. We need him to be a complete player at the low post position.
What concerns do you have about competing without a full roster with transfers, departures and a one-man recruiting class in 2012 (Amedeo Della Valle)?
TM: We’ve got 11 guys on scholarship. I like what we have. We’ve only got one freshman in [Della Valle]. He’s actually probably been a little bit better than we thought he’d be, being the only freshman. I think the depth is something, hopefully, we’ve got a lot of, from what I’ve seen of the guys in regard to this summer as well as since the fall. We had our first team workout Sunday. Guys have gotten better and that’s very exciting for us. Now, as we keep moving forward, we’ve got to put the pieces of the puzzle together. But I do expect us to have some depth.