The never-ending dog days of summer for the Ohio State basketball offseason are about to begin, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some questions that need to be answered before the ball is tipped.
The Buckeyes are coming off a strong campaign that saw them make the Elite Eight and win the loaded Big Ten tournament in Chicago. Deshaun Thomas declared for the NBA draft and Evan Ravenel graduated, but the rest of the key pieces are back for a run at a conference crown.
Read on to see five questions for the Ohio State offseason that will have an impact on how the year plays out.
LaQuinton Ross was brilliant at times last year, most notably during the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments and during a trip to Ann Arbor. However, there were also plenty of times where he looked completely lost on the floor, especially on the defensive end and when handling the ball.
There seems to be a general assumption that Ross will simply pick up where he left off in March as a junior. That assumption is probably not wrong considering many players make a leap from their second season to their third, but being asked to be the primary scorer on an offense that doesn’t have a ton of weapons for the length of an entire season is a bit different than hitting open shots in the postseason because Deshaun Thomas is drawing so much attention from the defense.
Ross won’t necessarily be asked to replicate Thomas’ Big Ten scoring title, but he will need to pick up a large portion of the offensive slack if Ohio State is to be successful.
Which Ross the Buckeyes get—the one that showed early signs of a superstar turning the corner and tapping into his potential in March, or the one who struggled with inconsistency during the season—may be the key to the entire season.
It wasn’t long ago that Thad Matta’s Ohio State teams were heavily reliant on freshmen. Whether it was Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr., or even Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens, the first-year players had significant roles.
That hasn’t been the case the last couple of years, but Marc Loving and Kameron Williams will undoubtedly have more of an impact than Amedeo Della Valle did in 2012-13.
Given the departures of Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel, along with the question mark that is Amir Williams, Thad Matta is going to need Loving to contribute right away. Loving is lengthy enough to help in the rebounding department and was an accomplished scorer on his way to winning Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award in high school.
Kameron Williams will be asked to bring some much-needed outside shooting for an offense that became stagnant at times last year in the half court. Also, look for Williams to join Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott in one of the most tenacious and intimidating full-court presses in the country.
No team in the country has the type of defensive firepower that Ohio State does at the point guard position.
Aaron Craft is arguably the best defender in the nation and disrupts entire offenses with his lateral quickness, nose for the ball, tenacity and ability to draw charges. His backup, Shannon Scott, who sees plenty of time alongside Craft in smaller lineups, also earned a spot on last year’s Big Ten All-Defensive team.
In fact, a primary reason why the Buckeyes turned their season around in the second half of last year was the combined defense of these two point guards.
However, both have some holes in their offensive game. Craft began to recognize his strengths by the season’s second half and attacked the rim more often instead of taking long jumpers, but it is still difficult to operate in a collegiate backcourt without a formidable shot.
Scott also struggles to hit from the perimeter, and he isn’t quite as efficient around the rim as Craft. With no more Deshaun Thomas in tow, Ohio State is going to need Craft and/or Scott to become better on offense.
Despite his vast potential and his McDonald’s All-American status coming out of high school, Amir Williams has been somewhat of an on-court hindrance for the Ohio State basketball team during his first two seasons.
He struggles to establish position inside, has issues catching the ball in the lane and is a disappointing rebounder considering his 7’ frame. The lone bright spot with Williams thus far has been his tendency to disrupt offenses with his shot-blocking abilities.
With no Jared Sullinger or Evan Ravenel on the roster anymore like in the past two seasons, Williams will be asked to step up his game on both sides of the floor. He needs to become a much better rebounder and establish himself as some type of a scoring threat on offense.
The Big Ten is too physical of a league for Ohio State to have a weakness at the center spot. Williams doesn’t have to become an All-American by any stretch, but he needs to at least be an asset for Thad Matta to utilize.
Deshaun Thomas deservedly received recognition last year for leading the Big Ten in scoring, but the argument can be made that he actually didn’t receive enough.
He thrived offensively on a squad of average-at-best offensive players (until LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson began to emerge in the season’s second half) and did so with the opposing defense focusing an inordinate amount of attention on him. With no more Thomas, multiple pieces are going to have to pick up the scoring slack.
Ross will be the primary option, but Thompson and Lenzelle Smith Jr. will need to increase their scoring output as well. Both are capable three-point shooters and can slash the lane consistently, so there is no reason they can’t be effective pieces in the Buckeye offense.
Thompson is the most likely second-scoring option because Smith will be splitting time with Shannon Scott and Kameron Williams at the shooting guard spot. Thompson led the team in three-point percentage last year and is possibly the most athletic player in the whole Big Ten.
Whether it is Thompson, Smith or someone else, Thad Matta is going to need a second scorer to emerge next year.
Follow Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.