Ohio State junior captain, David Lighty has now been injured for about two months and it does not seem like he will be returning anytime soon. While it is possible that DL could rejoin the team for the last stretch of the Big Ten schedule and the ensuing post-season, is this what is best for the Buckeyes at this point in the season? While the return could boost team morale and give the team a second wind in getting their captain and top defender back, it also, putting the last two games aside, could throw off some of the team chemistry and consistency in the offense that has been developed by the younger players during Lighty’s absence. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of Lighty returning to the Buckeyes for the rest of the 2008-2009 campaign:
There is no question that David Lighty was the heart and soul of this basketball team in the beginning of the season. Returning as the only member who played on the 2006-2007 National Runner-Up team (Kyle Madsen sat out after transferring), Lighty had the experience on the national stage that none of his other teammates had. Being that there was no seniors on the roster this year, he was to be counted on to guide the ‘Young Bucks’ through a tough Big Ten slate.
Lighty is averaging 9.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game this season, and while those are not eye opening numbers, they are very solid for what the Buckeyes would need down the stretch, especially with the transformation of Evan Turner into a superstar, and the emergence of William Buford as a true secondary scoring threat. He was also averaging 32.9 minutes per game before his injury, and would help energize a rotation that is visibly tired from the season-long lack of depth on the roster.
More importantly, Lighty is the team’s best defender, both on and off the ball, and would really help sure-up the Buckeyes match-up zone defense that has been susceptible to giving up too many offensive rebounds and easy buckets during the season. Losses against Wisconsin and Northwestern in the last two games can be attributed to these inefficiencies and Lighty surely would have helped defend the perimeter much better than any of the Buckeyes have in the last week.
There are times this season when the Buckeyes look lost on the court or lose focus when things are not going their way. While Evan Turner has done a great job of being an on-court leader and taking the team on his back (turnovers in big spots omitted), he can not replace David Lighty as the true captain of this team. Lighty’s experience on the big stage and knowledge of the game is needed for this team to reach its full potential, both on and off the court, and the return of such an important player to the program could give the Bucks just what they need to separate themselves from the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.
While Lighty can bring another body in the rotation and leadership both on the court and in the locker room, his return could also be detrimental to the rest of the Buckeyes’ season on the hardwood.
During Lighty’s absence, OSU has seen the aforementioned emergence of Evan Turner as a superstar and William Buford as the second scoring threat, but more importantly has developed a team identity that was not present during the beginning of the Big Ten season (one again, last two games aside). Everyone has settled into their roles and knows what is expected of them night in and night out, making this team more consistent on both ends of the floor as the season has progressed. Bringing DL back now could only disrupt any signs of chemistry that certainly were not there before Lighty's injury, and would cause a problem in the rotation. Currently, Lauderdale, Turner, Buford, Diebler, and Simmons are the starters with Mullens, Hill, and Madsen coming off the bench. Bring Lighty back and one of those starters has to sit. Diebler would be the likely option, but that creates a situation where Lighty, Turner, and Buford may be too much alike or where Buford or Turner may yield to Lighty when the team needs them to be as assertive as they have been all year. Also, Diebler is one of the team's most improved defenders this season and while he has been inconsistent in terms of his offensive numbers, he has been a nice compliment, and even sometimes a go to guy, to Turner and Buford on the perimeter. In a nut shell, bringing Lighty back would cause all sorts of rotation questions and would force the team to have to develop a new chemistry that included Lighty.
One final argument against bringing Lighty back comes from the selfish-view of an OSU fan. Lighty is certainly not a guy who is going to leave early for the NBA, and sitting out this year would allow him to red-shirt and play two more full seasons in Columbus. With the likely departure of BJ Mullens and the possibility of Evan Turner and William Buford joining him in “The League” after this year, the Buckeyes will be depleted once again in terms of depth and will be left with another young team with very little experience. Lighty, who will be back next year no matter what, will certainly help glue together what could be a potential disaster next season, but more importantly would help bring some senior leadership (along with Diebler and Lauderdale) to the plethora of talent that is coming to C-Bus for autumn 2010. What better way to ease in Jared Sullinger & Co. then to have a player with Lighty’s experience teach them how to be successful at the college level. It may be a selfish thing to ask for, but with the season winding down and Lighty’s return not imminent, it may also be the best option for the future of the program.