By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - For the first time in his five years as Ohio State's coach, Jim O'Brien believes his team has the weapons to overpower people underneath the basket.
Or is it that the Buckeyes just don't have as many weapons outside?
"Our frontcourt is going to be better than it was a year ago," O'Brien said on the eve of preseason workouts last week. "But the question mark has got to be on the perimeter."
Gone is Brian Brown, the heart and soul of the Buckeyes for the past four years. Physical swingman Boban Savovic also graduated, along with big men Tim Martin and Will Dudley.
Their absence spotlights sophomore Terence Dials as the Buckeyes' go-to guy. The 6-foot-9, 250-pounder had a superlative year as a freshman, supplying points, rebounds and muscle underneath to a guard-heavy team that needed an enforcer inside.
A year older and stronger, Dials will be one of the Buckeyes' first options on offense.
"I'm a lot more confident," he said. "I've worked on all my low post moves to be a more effective scorer and I think I got that accomplished."
Joining Dials up front is three-year starter Zach Williams, dependable on defense, on the boards and in close but erratic beyond 10 feet from the hoop.
"I worked on my game this summer and got comfortable at around 15 feet," he said. "With the confidence that that throws me, it should give me my chances."
It's not as if the Buckeyes (24-8, 11-5 Big Ten) don't have anyone to turn to other than Dials and Williams.
Swapping the point- and shooting-guard spots with Brown, Brent Darby scored 12.8 points a game to lead all returning scorers.
He'll likely be yoked with 3-point shooter Sean Connolly and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (who shot 22 percent from the field as a freshman) in the Buckeyes' three-guard rotation.
"This is something I've been waiting for," said Darby, a senior. "It's a great opportunity for me. I've been talking to Brian and Scoonie (Penn) about this and they've been telling me to go out and play every game like it's my last. I'm happy about the situation I'm in and I'm excited and waiting to get it on."
For three years, O'Brien has had a love/hate relationship with Darby's play. Darby is a streak shooter who has won the Buckeyes several games but has also disappeared in others.
Now O'Brien said he intends to give Darby more "freedom" -- precisely what he tried to prevent the Michigan native from taking too much of in years past. Darby admittedly played out of control at times.
"We've got to give him his head a little," O'Brien said. "Brent's got the ability to score. We've got to let him go a little bit."
Ohio State's subs include 7-foot Velimir Radinovic, 6-10 Matt Marinchick, 6-9 Charles Bass, 6-7 Matt Sylvester and transfers Shun Jenkins (6-6) and Emonte Jernigan (6-3).
Sylvester is still recovering from back surgery. If he returns to the team in a few weeks, he could find a niche as one of the team's few swingmen capable of defending a guard or a forward.
O'Brien is 102-57 at Ohio State with four straight 20-win seasons, a trip to the Final Four, a share of one regular-season Big Ten title and the conference tournament championship last season.
The Buckeyes have been undertalented, too short or too slow before. O'Brien always seems to make the disadvantage an advantage.
"Anyway he (O'Brien) draws it up, I know we'll be able to be successful," Williams said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)