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.
That`s a lot to replace, regardless of how many players you can throw at the other team.
Jamar Butler, who will start at point guard, makes up what stands for the veteran core of the team along with 6-8 Matt Terwilliger, 6-5 David Lighty and the 6-9 Hunter - two seniors followed by two second-year Buckeyes.
Lighty, the defensive specialist on last year`s team, was on a state runner-up in high school, finished second in the NCAA Tournament last season and was on the U.S. team that fell in the finals to host Serbia in the World Under-19 tournament this summer.
"I`m getting sick of second place right about now," he said in mock disgust. "I can`t take it anymore. I don`t know what it is about me and second place."
Those Buckeyes will be joined by what many consider one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, although one that no one is comparing it to last year`s so-called Thad Five of Oden, Conley, Cook, Lighty and junior-college transfer Hunter.
The new headliners are 6-6 Jon Diebler, Ohio`s all-time high school scoring leader, along with Kosta Koufos (KOAST`-uh KOO`-fuss), a 7-footer who prefers to shoot 3s instead of muscling with the big guys underneath.
The other newcomers include junior-college point guard P.J. Hill, 6-9 Vanderbilt transfer Kyle Madsen, swingmen Eric Wallace and Evan Turner and another cookie-cutter-sized big man, Dallas Lauderdale.
The youngsters have yet to buy into Matta`s pressure defense package, yet have shown a propensity to score points. They`ve been progressing nicely in some areas, woefully weak in others. None of that is terribly surprising.
Matta was asked if he liked the challenge of almost starting from scratch.
"I do," he said. Then he cracked, "I`m not going to lie to you - I`d like the other challenge better."
It`s not easy replacing those all-world talents. But the Buckeyes have found some consolation by looking at another team on campus, one which plays its games in the autumn.
"My friends, they all say, â€˜Look at the football team. They started at No. (11) and now they`re No. 1. No one ever thought they`d be No. 1, losing what they lost,"â€˜ Lighty said before Saturday`s loss to Illinois. "We`re kind of the same way. But our season hasn`t even started yet. Time will tell."