The NBA decisions have been made (Deshaun Thomas is gone, LaQuinton Ross is still around), the freshmen have been signed and the offseason is officially underway for the Ohio State basketball team.
That means that Thad Matta will have a little more than six months to figure out the best ways he can utilize the combination of talent he has on his roster. The Buckeyes spent the majority of the first half of the 2012-13 season trying to figure out their identity, but Matta should have a better idea of how he will use his returning pieces this time around.
With that in mind, read on to see the presumed roles each player will take on next year’s roster.
Incoming freshman Kameron Williams has a number of redeeming qualities on the basketball court, but the thing that stood out to recruiters and scouts across the country was his ability to score.
Ohio State struggled with a stagnant half-court offense at times last season, and that could very well be the case again in 2013-14 with no Deshaun Thomas around. Williams’ primary role will be serving as an offensive spark plug off the bench for Thad Matta.
Think something along the lines of Nate Robinson, who does the same thing for the Bulls when they struggle to score. Williams is a pure scorer who is automatic from the free-throw line, can put the ball on the deck and has the potential to be a lethal threat from downtown.
His quickness will also help on defense, especially when paired with Aaron Craft and/or Shannon Scott. But if he can score like he did in high school at the next level, Buckeye fans would be more than thrilled.
It isn’t always completely fair for freshmen in today’s college basketball world, but thanks to the contributions of 18-year-olds in the past few years, there are immediate expectations.
Now that Deshaun Thomas is heading toward the NBA, there is an open power forward spot in the rotation. Marc Loving will (most likely) not be taking the starting position, but he will see much more action than he would have if Thomas stayed in Columbus.
Loving is a stretch forward who can score from the blocks, face up and drive around slower defenders and even shoot from mid-range. That skill set is very similar to the one Thomas brought to Ohio State three years ago.
The Buckeyes are also going to need Loving to use his length and athleticism to hit the boards because Amir Williams is still a 7’0" question mark and Evan Ravenel graduated. Those same traits should help Loving block a few shots as well.
There are a number of “ifs” that have to break the right way for Ohio State to have a successful season, and one of those ifs is Loving performing like the All-Freshman Big Ten player he is capable of being. A formidable Loving means a much more formidable Buckeye team that will desperately need both his scoring and rebounding.
Amedeo Della Valle became a fan favorite in Columbus during his rookie season, but it was more for his floppy hair than his on-court production. That’s not to suggest he couldn’t have put up numbers if given the minutes, but Della Valle only saw the floor in the final moments of early-season blowout wins.
Frankly speaking, the Italian product is probably never going to see much playing time, at least not as a sophomore. However, when he does get in the game, his role will be straightforward: shoot the three.
He shot slightly less than 39 percent from downtown last season, albeit in garbage time, and it is clear he has the stroke to improve that. In a perfect world, Della Valle would turn into a Jon Diebler light for the Buckeyes, but he would have to improve his defense for that to happen.
Look for Della Valle to be a spot duty three-point shooter this year and possibly see more action as a junior.
Amir Williams was Ohio State’s starting center for the second half of last season, but it was Evan Ravenel who played the more important role.
Ravenel came in off the bench and provided solid, physical defense and timely rebounding. He also managed to find the basket more often than Williams. But his true value was as a banger down in the post.
That needs to be Trey McDonald’s role on the 2013-14 Buckeyes. Much to the chagrin of scarlet and gray-clad fans, Williams is still a giant question mark at best. With no Ravenel, Thad Matta is going to need McDonald to serve as a big body down low to rebound and contain opposing centers.
It’s not glamorous, but it will be necessary.
Harsh or not, Amir Williams has been a bust in his two seasons in Columbus. As he enters his junior year and joins the ranks of the upperclassmen, the onus is now squarely on his shoulders to change that reality.
Williams came to Ohio State as a McDonald’s All-American and the heir apparent to a center legacy that included Greg Oden, Jared Sullinger and current pros Byron Mullens and Kosta Koufos. Needless to say, that type of production has yet to be seen from him.
There have been flashes of excellence, but they are often quicker than lightning strikes. He is a capable shot-blocker who can finish down low (when he actually catches the ball), but rebounding should be his No. 1 priority in the offseason.
If the Buckeyes can actually get 7’0" stats out of their 7’0" player in 2013-14, a Big Ten title is not out of the question. That means blocked shots, points and significantly better effort on the boards.
Shannon Scott was close to being a non-factor during his freshman season, but he really emerged for Thad Matta during the second half of his sophomore campaign.
The result was a spot on the All-Big Ten Defensive Team, significantly more playing time and an integral role in bringing the Big Ten Tournament title to Columbus. Scott and Aaron Craft became the best defensive backcourt duo in the country and frustrated the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana down the stretch.
There is no reason not to expect even more from Scott on the defensive side as a junior. He will likely see more minutes on the floor from the start and should be able to parlay that into another All-Big Ten type of performance. The Buckeyes win with their defense, and he is a major part of that.
It would also benefit Scott if he developed a bit more of an offensive game as well. He doesn’t have to be Deshaun Thomas out there, but a passable jump shot and more consistent drives to the lane would round out what could be a formidable all-around game.
Sam Thompson spent most of the first half of last season as an athletic forward who played solid defense, grabbed some rebounds and wowed the crowd with high-flying dunks. Unless he was slashing the lane or finishing alley-oops, he wasn’t much of a scoring threat.
By the year’s second half, though, he was Ohio State’s best three-point shooter (percentage-wise) and was finding ways to contribute beyond just dunks. He became comfortable with the ball in his hands and gave Deshaun Thomas some much-needed scoring help.
The jump from sophomore to junior year in production is oftentimes the most dramatic, and if that becomes the case for Thompson, Thad Matta will have his No. 2 scoring option for 2013-14. It is logical to assume that Thompson’s three-point shot will be more consistent, especially now that he has confidence in it, and he certainly isn’t going to lose any of that athleticism.
Thompson will start at small forward and finish second on the roster in points per game.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. doesn’t do any one thing at an elite level on the basketball court, a la Aaron Craft’s defense or Deshaun Thomas’ scoring ability, but he produces solid contributions in a number of different areas.
He was arguably Ohio State’s best rebounder last season considering his size, he was a decent three-point shooter who probably should have looked for more opportunities behind the arc and his athleticism and length helped him on the defensive end.
Smith will be a senior in 2013-14, and he should once again produce formidable numbers in a variety of different areas. He won’t lead the team in scoring or steals, but he will give Thad Matta 100 percent effort at all times and the occasional breakout game.
Smith’s best role on the team will be to serve as a veteran leader who both mentors the younger players and demonstrates how to be an effective college teammate without necessarily garnering many headlines. Craft may be the unquestioned leader of the team, but Ohio State is going to need more than just one veteran presence.
The real LaQuinton Ross may have finally stood up during the past NCAA tournament. For nearly two seasons Ohio State fans had been told of his scoring prowess in high school and his silky-smooth three-point shot, but save for the occasional glimpse, that never seemed to be the case at the collegiate level.
Then, down the stretch of last season, Ross began to emerge as the Buckeyes’ best scoring option this side of Deshaun Thomas. He became more aggressive off the dribble and looked to hoist more shots from long range. The result was more points and even some NBA rumors before he declared his intentions to return to school.
With Thomas now gone, the role of go-to scorer is there for the taking. Ross is the logical replacement for Thad Matta to utilize in that spot. He will play some small and power forward this year and will be counted on to give Ohio State offense all season.
Improved defense and fewer turnovers would also serve Ross well, but if he can score like he did during the stretch run in 2012-13, the Buckeyes won’t ask for much more.
The evolution of Aaron Craft has been fairly profound.
He began as a freshman who gave Ohio State contagious energy and great defensive effort off the bench, morphed into a sophomore who became arguably the best defensive player in the country and a vocal leader on a Final Four team and was eventually more of an offensive threat as a junior with the same tenacious defense and leadership qualities.
As a senior, Craft will have to be Mr. Everything for a talented Buckeye squad that also has a number of question marks.
Craft will have to spearhead a defense that could be the difference between a Final Four contender and a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten squad, serve as the vocal leader and extension of Thad Matta on the floor and look to score much more than he has in the past.
That improved scoring touch was critical in Ohio State’s late-season turnaround (even if his shot disappeared against Wichita State) and eventual Big Ten Tournament championship. He eviscerated Michigan State and Indiana and showed the nation his clutch gene in the NCAA tournament with a buzzer-beating three.
Craft is the straw that stirs the drink in Columbus, and with no Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger, David Lighty, Jon Diebler or any of the other talented teammates he has played with in the past, Craft must be the team’s MVP. With his track record, it would be an upset if he didn’t become just that.