If Jared Sullinger Stays, Ohio State Probably Opens the 2011-2012 College Basketball Season at No. 1

Jared Sullinger says he’s returning to Ohio State for his sophomore year. Considering Sullinger is a projected Top 10 pick in the NBA draft, this decision seems highly unlikely. He’s just another kid who suffered a difficult, emotional, NCAA Tournament loss and he’ll change his mind in a few weeks when the dollar signs become more real, right?

Here are some basketball reasons Sullinger might return for his sophomore season: [UPDATE: Sullinger’s dad says to “etch it in stone” his son will return to Ohio State.]

Ohio State will be really, really good next year. If Sullinger returns, they’ll definitely open in the season in the Top 5. If Sullinger and junior William Buford stay, they probably open at No. 1.

First, the losses: they’ll graduate a top reserve (Lauderdale), their best wing defender (Lighty), and their best shooter (Diebler, the best 3-point shooter in Big Ten history).

It’s safe to assume freshman Deshaun Thomas, who played limited minutes but was impressive occasionally on offense, will replace Lighty. Aaron Craft, who could be the best defensive guard in the country, will start at point. If Buford stays (2-for-16, worst game of the season against Kentucky), then they only need to find one more starter.

Fortunately, the incoming freshman class is pretty strong, as it features three players 6-foot-8 or bigger.

Sullinger and all other underclassmen have until April 24 to make up their mind about the NBA, but the guess here is that if Sullinger and Buford stay, and all the other talented freshman in the country go to the NBA as expected (Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones, Kyrie Irving, Tobias Harris, Tristian Thompson, Josh Selby, etc), Ohio State will open the preseason rankings at No. 1.

The Big Ten will be significantly rebuilding next year, and the Buckeyes will dominate the league again:

* Michigan, a young team on the rise, is probably the 2nd best team in the league, but how close it’ll be to Ohio State depends on if Darius Morris returns to opts for the NBA.
* Illinois loses three key seniors (McCamey, Tisdale, Davis), but has a nice young nucleus (Paul, Richardson, Richmond). McCamey’s loss could be some addition by subtraction based on the way his senior season went. I think the Illini will be a Top 5 team in the league.
* Michigan State loses its starting backcourt (Lucas, Summers), but will still be in the top five in the league assuming Keith Appling takes over the team and Green and Roe provide leadership.
* Wisconsin loses three pivotal seniors and will have to rebuild around explosive guard Jordan Taylor (who struggled in his final two games – 8-35-  against K-State and Butler).
* Purdue loses its two best players (JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore) from a 26-8, 14-4 team. They won’t be a Top 25 team.

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