LaQuinton Ross has an identical twin, right? That has to be the only explanation for the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-like performance Ohio State basketball fans have seen from him in the past two seasons.
Granted, it could be something as simple as an entitled freshman developing a more consistent approach to the game and maturity as he got older, but that is not nearly as entertaining to think about.
In all seriousness, if the Buckeyes hope to challenge for another Big Ten championship and make a deep run in March, they are going to need the Ross who carried their offense for the last month of the 2012-13 season. Replacing the lost scoring production of Deshaun Thomas—who led the Big Ten in points per game—will be a team effort, but Ross will be option No. 1.
Before Ross assumed the title of Ohio State’s primary scorer this offseason, his career arc began with well-deserved hype coming out of high school. He was a small forward with power forward height and the ball-handling and slashing skills of a guard.
What’s more, he was a deadly three-point shooter whom many expected would thrive from long range as a freshman with Jared Sullinger drawing double teams down low. However, an early academic-based suspension put Ross firmly in Thad Matta’s doghouse, and the rare times he saw the court in year one did not go as planned.
He finished his freshman campaign with two points a game on 33 percent shooting. Still, many expected him to earn a starting nod as a sophomore largely because of his potential, but Sam Thompson seized the role.
Ross responded with inconsistent production for much of the 2012-13 campaign, but he flashed enough glimpses of possible brilliance that many Buckeyes fans were calling for more playing time. And then Ross exploded in March.
Ross had a solid Big Ten tournament that included a handful of critical plays in the championship game against Wisconsin, but it was his performance in the Big Dance that turned heads. He scored 17 against Iowa State, 17 against Arizona and 19 against Wichita State in a game where Ross shooting free throws was Ohio State’s only effective offensive play.
There were times during each game that Ross looked like the most talented player on the floor, none more so than his game-winning three against the Wildcats. Just that fact alone should give Buckeye Nation reason for optimism heading into the 2013-14 season.
The ultimate question regarding Ross’ ability to replace Thomas’ scoring prowess is whether he can perform as he did in March over the course on an entire season. Not only that, he will have to do so as the featured scorer and primary concern for opposing defenses. Thomas will no longer be there to draw double teams and open up his teammates.
For as questionable as Thomas’ shot selection could be at times, the fact that he was able to lead a loaded Big Ten in scoring with a supporting cast that thrived chiefly on defense is impressive. The only way Ross can do that is to play with more consistency throughout the year.
Ross is certainly not the same player as Thomas was, but many of the same skills are in place. Ross can shoot the three, drive around defenders, post up smaller opponents and finish around the rim. If anyone on the Buckeyes’ roster is going to replicate Thomas’ scoring it will be Ross.
It is because of this skill set that there seems to be a general assumption that Ross will simply pick up where he left off in March and slide into Thomas’ vacated role.
That assumption isn’t that far-fetched 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 feature many 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 finally has the experience and confidence to match his potential. That will show in 2013-14 as he leads the Buckeyes in scoring and replicates much of Thomas' production.
Which Ross Matta gets—the one who looked like a superstar turning the corner and tapping into his vast potential late in the season, or the one who struggled with inconsistency for much of his early career—will be the key to the entire Ohio State season.
Buckeye fans will just have to hope it is the good Ross twin.
Follow Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.