The majority of the pieces on the 2013-14 Ohio State basketball roster will be familiar to card-carrying members of Buckeye Nation.
Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel are gone, and two freshmen join the fold in their place, but players such as Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott and Amir Williams are all back in Columbus.
Despite the similarities between this season’s roster and that of last year, there are still some things Buckeye fans should know about the team. Read on to see five.
For as much as Buckeye fans continue to pine for Aaron Craft to become a consistent perimeter scorer, there comes a point in one’s collegiate career when you are what you are, simple as that.
And Craft is something very special. He is arguably the best defender in the nation, always willing to put his body on the line and would be happier with zero points and five turnovers in a win than 20 points and 11 assists in a loss.
Craft is also as good of a leader as any college coach can ask for and is basically an extension of Thad Matta on the floor.
Craft is also an excellent penetrator with an ability to finish at the rim that continues to improve. He just is not a talented outside shooter.
That doesn’t mean he will never make clutch shots (see the Iowa State NCAA tournament game last year), but it is unrealistic to assume Craft will suddenly become Jon Diebler this season just because he is a senior.
Buckeye fans should enjoy what they have in Craft and not wish for something he isn’t.
It has been a couple of seasons since a freshman contributed to the overall success or failure of an Ohio State basketball team, but that will change in 2013-14.
Marc Loving and Kameron Williams each bring aspects of the game that the Buckeyes need next season, and they will see significant time in Thad Matta’s eight- or nine-man rotation.
Loving will assume a number of the minutes from the power forward spot that depart with Deshaun Thomas, while Williams will be expected to hit from the perimeter for a team that struggled from there last year.
If Amir Williams' inconsistency continues, Loving will be the “big man” in Matta’s center-less lineup he instituted at times in 2012-13. That was a role Thomas filled so admirably by leading the team in rebounding and scoring.
If Loving can put up 60 percent of Thomas’ production, Matta would probably be happy.
Kameron Williams will slide in alongside Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott in an athletic full-court press and will average about a steal per contest. He will also take advantage of open three-point looks when Craft penetrates and LaQuinton Ross draws the attention of the defense.
Both need to have solid seasons for the Buckeyes to succeed.
It is not much of a stretch to say that Deshaun Thomas will be missed in Columbus next season.
He led the Big Ten in scoring, could find the basket from the post or behind the three-point line and led the Buckeyes in rebounding. He was also the offensive force that he was as the sole elite scoring option on a squad that often struggled in the half court when he was not in the game. Defenses game-planned for him, and it usually didn’t matter.
That being said, Evan Ravenel will be nearly as missed as Thomas. Amir Williams is still a 7’ question mark, and Trey McDonald has not played enough minutes to be a reliable post option by any stretch of the imagination.
Marc Loving will be critical on the block, but that’s a lot to ask a freshman in the Big Ten who could still use about 20 pounds of muscle on his frame.
The Buckeyes will be a perimeter-oriented team next year, but they will miss someone who did the dirty work and often showed up in the biggest moments a la Ravenel.
When Ohio State is on offense this season, a number of things are going to happen.
Aaron Craft is going to do what he does (namely penetrate and finish at the rim or dish it out when the defense collapses), LaQuinton Ross is going to be the No. 1 scoring option and the primary focus of the defense and Amir Williams is going to fumble away passes he should catch on the post.
That means the complementary pieces of Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith Jr. need to step up.
Granted, Thompson certainly has the chance to be more than just a complementary piece, but he and Smith must contribute if the Buckeyes want to have an elite offense.
Even if Ross does make the leap so many are expecting him to make this year, this offense still struggled far too often last season with the Big Ten’s best pure scorer in Deshaun Thomas.
It is a bit much to expect Ross to lead the conference in points per game like Thomas did, so Smith and Thompson have to take advantage of their opportunities when opposing defenses are focused on Ross and Craft.
It could be the difference between a Big Ten title and a fourth-place finish.
On paper, having a 7’ center in Amir Williams seems to fly in the face of the claim that Ohio State will be one of the smallest and quickest teams in the Big Ten, but by the season’s second half, Thad Matta’s rotation will be much more conducive to creating turnovers and operating the full-court press than banging around down low.
Unless Williams makes significant strides from his sophomore to junior campaign, he will be the weak point for this squad. Dynamic athletes like Aaron Craft, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross, Kameron Williams and even Marc Loving will be shuffled in and out to wear down the opposition.
The Buckeyes will not be utilizing the plodding style that the Big Ten has been unfairly labeled with in recent years, thanks to squads like Wisconsin that win 20-plus games every season by boring the opponent to death.
The defense will be the lifeblood for Ohio State next year, and that defense will operate by forcing turnovers with its speed and quickness.
Follow Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.