Ohio State Basketball: Biggest Improvement Each Returning Player Must Make

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2013

Ohio State Basketball: Biggest Improvement Each Returning Player Must Make

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    Although many programs would consider a conference tournament championship and Elite Eight appearance a successful campaign, the Ohio State basketball team fell short of its lofty goals in the 2012-13 season.

    There was no Big Ten title and no return trip to the Final Four, which were both certainly on the table for a squad ranked in the preseason Top Five. What that means is the returning Buckeyes must make strides during the offseason to ensure they accomplish their collective goals in 2013-14.

    Read on to see the one improvement that each one of Thad Matta’s players must make before the ball is tipped again.

Amir Williams: Physicality/Toughness

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    As any Buckeye fan will quickly tell you, there are a number of improvements that Amir Williams must make if he ever hopes to live up to the McDonald’s All-American status he enjoyed coming into college.

    If he works on his physicality and toughness, though, his production across the board will dramatically increase. A more physical 7’ center will rebound better, finish in the post through contact and hold his own against the bangers in the Big Ten.

    The fact that Williams averaged less than four boards a night as a starting center on a Top 10 team is unacceptable. Regardless of minutes, the shooting guard should not be a better rebounder than the center. Williams’ lack of toughness speaks directly to those results.

    The Big Ten chews up and spits out big men who are not physically and mentally strong. Williams needs to improve on both as a junior.

Amedeo Della Valle: Offense Inside the 3-Point Line

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    Amedeo Della Valle didn’t see the court often in 2012-13, but when he did there was one thing on his mind—shoot the three and make the crowd happy.

    The fan favorite basically played mop-up duty at the end of blowouts, and the Columbus crowds responded to his playing time with enthusiasm typically reserved for high-flying dunks. Della Valle was not shy about shooting from behind the arc, and he did so at nearly a 40 percent clip.

    However, if he wants to make any meaningful contributions in 2013-14, he needs to improve on other areas of his offensive game. He shouldn’t neglect his perimeter shot (after all, that is still his best quality), but a one-trick pony won’t see much action in Thad Matta’s tight rotation.

    If Della Valle can improve on his mid-range game and develop better ball-handling skills, he should see the floor at least a bit more as a sophomore.

Trey McDonald: Rebounding

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    Barring significant improvement across the board, Trey McDonald’s primary role in 2013-14 will be to replace Amir Williams’ finesse game down low with someone who isn’t afraid to mix it up physically with some of the Big Ten’s best post players.

    McDonald will be asked to fill in for stretches, clean up the glass and bang around on defense. He will basically be replicating Evan Ravenel with a lesser ability to score.

    McDonald played nearly eight minutes a game last season and only averaged 1.2 rebounds a night. He still won’t play a ton of minutes (although it will in all likelihood be more than eight), but his rebounding totals need to spike.

    Deshaun Thomas and Ravenel were two of the top three rebounders on Ohio State’s roster. With neither one returning, Thad Matta will be counting on McDonald to replace some of that production.

Shannon Scott: Jump Shot

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    The continued development of Shannon Scott is one of the primary reasons why Ohio State is still considered Top 10 quality even without Deshaun Thomas returning.

    As a freshman Scott was best known as the point guard Thad Matta chose instead of Trey Burke, but as a sophomore Scott became a defensive force who combined with Aaron Craft to form as dominant a defensive duo as there was in the country. The next step will be to develop a better offensive game.

    Scott was effective at times slashing the lane (although he didn’t always finish when he got to the basket), but his jump shot needs the most improvement. If he can extend his range, defenders will be forced to press up on him to contest the shot, which will allow Scott to use his quickness to drive to the hoop.

    If Scott continues his arc of improvement, four seasons of Scott versus two seasons of Burke won’t be such a clear-cut argument anymore.

Lenzelle Smith Jr.: Consistency

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    Lenzelle Smith Jr. is capable of doing a number of things well on the basketball court. He was Ohio State’s second leading rebounder, third leading scorer and third leading assist man last year. He is also a capable defender and can hit the three-point shot.

    That being said, Smith had the tendency to disappear at times, which is an issue coaches can live with when it comes to freshmen but not juniors. There just wasn’t enough consistency from someone who was supposed to be one of the veteran leaders on a talented but young team.

    Smith must work this offseason to ensure that doesn’t happen during his senior campaign. He won’t be the most talented or most important Buckeye in 2013-14, but he needs to lead by example for a team that is still particularly young in terms of actual minutes spent on the floor.

    If Smith can consistently produce solid games and throw in a spectacular one here and there, Buckeye fans will have no complaints.

Sam Thompson: Aggressiveness

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    The rap on Sam Thompson as a freshman and the first half of his sophomore campaign is that he wasn’t much of a scoring threat. He could sky above the rim and play solid defense with his athleticism and length, but he wasn’t going to put the ball in the basket outside of the lane.

    That changed in the second half of 2012-13 as Thompson began to develop confidence in his jump shot. By the end of the year, he was the only Buckeye to shoot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point line. He also shot 50 percent from the field and 70 percent from the stripe.

    The issue with Thompson was a lack of aggressiveness. For the leading three-point shooter and someone who made half the shots he took, Thompson was only fifth on the roster in field-goal attempts. In fact, he played 304 more minutes than LaQuinton Ross but actually took 22 fewer shots.

    Thompson needs to be more aggressive as a junior with the ball in his hands. For as exciting as his dunks are, Buckeye fans want to see him score in a number of different ways.

    The only way to do that is to shoot.

LaQuinton Ross: Defense

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    LaQuinton Ross made such significant strides during the season’s final months that he had to publicly announce his decision to return to Columbus for his junior year.

    The fact that Ross was even considered a threat to leave for the NBA after a turbulent first year and a half at Ohio State is a testament to his work ethic and determination. He could have mentally packed it in after riding the bench his entire freshman season following an academic suspension, but he worked hard and is now the Buckeyes’ top scoring option.

    He has the potential to be nearly automatic from behind the three-point line this year and will develop his mid-range game and post-up abilities as he sees more playing time, but it is defense that Ross must improve on the most.

    Ross wasn’t seeing the floor much in the first half of 2012-13 because of his lackluster defending. Thad Matta prioritizes that side of the ball, and he wasn’t going to risk lapses just so Ross could shoot a few threes a game.

    As Ross’ offense became too good to ignore, he saw more minutes, but his defense also gradually improved throughout March. Look for him to play passable defense this year and lead the Buckeyes in scoring.

Aaron Craft: Jump Shot

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    It is no wonder why Aaron Craft is such a fan favorite among Buckeye Nation. He plays with 100 percent effort at all times, spearheads a defensive attack that is the sole reason Ohio State is considered a Top 10-quality team and is arguably the best on-floor leader in college basketball.

    The one aspect that is really holding Craft back from joining the game’s elite is his jump shot.

    Craft reinvented his offensive attack in the second half of last season by basically abandoning a perimeter game and slashing the lane with much more regularity. The result was a handful of some of his best scoring totals ever against Michigan State twice and Indiana.

    However, Wichita State exposed his lack of a long-range shot in the Elite Eight, which was just one of many reasons why the Buckeyes were upset. Craft would be wise to spend countless hours in the offseason hoisting up three after three.

    He is a jump shot away from becoming a potential All-American.