No. 4: Ohio State Buckeyes

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It’s Midnight Madness day. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 34-3 (16-2), first in Big Ten
Lost in Sweet 16

Coach: Thad Matta, 190-57, 8th year (292-88 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 2008

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: Once Jared Sullinger decided on another season in Columbus, the Buckeyes’ fortunes in the 2012 NCAA tournament automatically improved. And now that he’s a leaner, meaner Sullinger, the sky’s the limit.

The 6-9 sophomore will see time at center and power forward, though I doubt he’ll be any less effective scoring or rebounding. Or drawing double teams. And really, when it comes to a player of Sullinger’s caliber, it’s not just about what he can do, but what he helps his teammates accomplish.

He’s got some good ones, too. Guard William Buford could become the school’s all-time leading scorer. Sophomore Deshaun Thomas is almost as an efficient scorer and rebounder as Sullinger. Point guard Aaron Craft is a nasty on-ball defender and savvy running the offense. Guard Jordan Sibert will be in the mix. And the crop of four freshmen figure to make an instant impact.

Ohio State spent all last season talked about as a title contender. Get ready for more of the same.

The bad: Losing sharpshooter Jon Diebler and defensive mainstay and do-it-all stalwart David Lighty can’t be overstated.

Diebler stretched out defenses (though attention on Sullinger helped) to a ridiculous degree. He made 50 percent of 227 3-point attempts. That’s insane. Lighty was merely an efficient scorer, their best defender and the vocal leader.

They’ll be replaced. But it’s impossible to replace them and not take a step back.

The unknown: Incoming wing LaQuinton Ross should’ve been one of Ohio State’s top outside threats, but he was ruled ineligible as an academic non-qualifier. None of the other freshman have his range, putting an onus on Craft and Thomas to stretch defenses.

Also, if Amir Williams isn’t ready for extended minutes at center, Sullinger will be back in familiar territory, rather than at power forward. It’s not a bad thing. Just sayin’.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

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