The future is brighter for Buckeyes
They lose four starters, but have the nation's top recruiting class.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- For a change, Ohio State basketball made more news on the court than in a courtroom.
Think a 26-6 record, an outright Big Ten title and a trip to the NCAA tournament was nice? Wait until next year.
Despite NCAA sanctions hanging over them and ugly details popping up because of a lawsuit by the man who brought most of them to campus, the Buckeyes still racked up a lot of high points before losing to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament Sunday.
"No one expected us to do anything, but we did," junior guard Ron Lewis said. "It was just a great season. I am looking forward to next season and doing the same thing."
It's odd that a team that loses four starters, including three fifth-year seniors and the Big Ten's player of the year, is looking forward rather than back. Gone is the top player in the conference, Terence Dials, along with J.J. Sullinger, Matt Sylvester and Je'Kel Foster.
But coach Thad Matta -- who couldn't or wouldn't say he was officially coming back to Ohio State until just a few weeks ago -- will replace them with one of the most-anticipated recruiting classes at the school.
No wonder Lewis, point guard Jamar Butler and the other returnees are excited.
Oden leads new class
The incoming Buckeyes include 7-foot Greg Oden, the consensus national player of the year, and his Indianapolis Lawrence North High teammate Mike Conley, along with Daequan Cook of Dayton Dunbar and David Lighty of Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph.
"We're going to take some time and rest," Matta said after Ohio State fell to Georgetown, 70-52. "We have four guys playing for state high school championships this coming weekend and I hope they finish that off. We'll come back after spring break and get ready to start building again. That's the beauty of what I love to do in coaching. Put all the pieces together and go in the right direction."
No one doubts that's where they are headed.
A massive black cloud covered the program when practice began last October. The Buckeyes went 20-12 in 2004-2005 but did not get to play in the postseason because the administration banned them as a way to reduce more severe penalties from the NCAA, which found that coach Jim O'Brien and his staff committed seven major violations.
So while the Buckeyes went through their paces in the gym, they awaited the other shoe to drop.
Team lacked height
They had plenty of experience, but a lot of questions. Not terribly tall -- at 6-9, Dials was their only inside player -- and not terribly deep, the Buckeyes nonetheless ran off 10 straight wins in November and December, including a last-second victory over LSU.
They lost three of their first seven Big Ten games, then won 11 of their next 12 games to capture the school's first outright conference title in 14 years.
Late in that run, they also found out that the NCAA would not keep them out of the tournament this year.
The only damper on a sparkling season was a shooting slump that cost them in a loss to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament final and the season-ending loss to the Hoyas.
"This was a year of overachieving," Sylvester said. "We've had our ups and downs, like every team has. It was a great season. No one can take the outright Big Ten championship away from us. No one has regrets here."
Sullinger, who picked up the slack inside despite standing just 6-6, said, "No one ever gave us any credit. We were always underdogs.
"Ohio State basketball is back. I'm just proud to say I was part of the group that helped this program get back into the NCAA."
The Buckeyes will probably not be underdogs again in the foreseeable future. There's no hiding the fact that the presence of Oden, who many NBA insiders consider to be a once-in-a-decade player, changes everything.