OSU hoops to showcase more depth

COLUMBUS – After a year of quality, the Ohio State Buckeyes are experiencing what it’s like to have quantity.

“It’s amazing,” coach Thad Matta said during preseason workouts. “We started practice this year with 13 guys and I became claustrophobic. I’d never had that many guys before. Now at least we look better when we walk through an airport and our warmup lines look better.”

Grinning, he added, “But I don’t think that’s going to get us any points.”

No, it won’t, at least not in the short term. The young Buckeyes, who open the season Monday in the Preseason NIT, can play only five at a time but there is some comfort in numbers.

No Greg Oden? Now there are five guys 6-foot-8 or taller. Missing wispy Mike Conley Jr. at point guard? Any of three or four guys could play the position. How do you replace Daequan Cook, Ron Lewis or Ivan Harris? The roster is full of candidates.

But no one is deluded enough to think that the current Buckeyes can hold a candle to last year’s team that went 35-4, won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles and went to the national championship game before falling to defending champ Florida. That became evident Tuesday night when they lost 70-68 to Division II Findlay in an exhibition game.

The Buckeyes lose 73 percent of their scoring, 63 percent of the rebounds, 68 percent of steals, 68 percent of blocked shots and 65 percent of assists from last year’s squad.

The dominating 7-0 Oden went No. 1 in the NBA draft after a phenomenal season for Ohio State. Conley was taken No. 4 in the draft, and Cook was a first-round pick after starting all of one game as a freshman. Lewis and Harris were longtime role players who had sterling senior seasons.

“We don’t have the Daequans and Michaels and Gregs, but we’ve got other players who can help us out,” said holdover power forward Othello Hunter.