Seemingly every college basketball season comes down to some wildcard that can break either way for a team.
While established stars are necessary to reach the heights of the Final Four, it is moments like Luke Hancock and Spike Albrecht trading baskets in the National Championship game while Trey Burke and Peyton Siva watch that often make or break the year.
Ohio State will feature a handful of marquee players in 2013-14, including Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross, but will also need some of these “wildcard” moments or players to step up if a Big Ten title is in the future.
Read on to see the five biggest wildcards for the Buckeyes.
The biggest of all the wildcards regarding Ohio State’s 2013-14 season is Amir Williams’ development (or the lack thereof) in the post.
The Buckeyes are loaded with guards and wing players in Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross and even Kameron Williams, but where the interior production will come from in the scoring or rebounding departments is a huge question mark.
Thus far there is no substantive on-court evidence that Williams will actually turn the corner, but at the same time, it’s difficult to imagine it not happening at least to some extent. With all that talent coming out of high school, he couldn’t possibly go through an entire collegiate career with this lack of production, right?
The jump from being a sophomore to a junior is often one that sees significant strides for borderline players. Williams needs to work on a number of things, including his rebounding, hands and ability to create space around the basket.
Whether he can do so or not will go a long way towards determining the Buckeyes’ overall success level this year.
In the 2012-13 season, Amedeo Della Valle filled the always entertaining role of walk-on who sits at the end of the bench and then thrills fans in the final minutes of blowout victories.
The only thing is, Della Valle isn’t a walk-on.
Thad Matta offered the Italian native a scholarship primarily based on his shooting prowess. We saw glimpses of it in limited action during Della Valle’s freshman season, but whether he can provide consistent outside shooting will likely impact his playing time in 2013-14.
It would be unreasonable to expect him to make the type of jump that Jon Diebler did between his freshman and sophomore years, especially considering the fact Della Valle still probably won’t see much time, but he could certainly help a basketball team that struggled to hit from behind the three-point line with consistency.
If his summer is any indication, Della Valle may be ready to contribute for the Buckeyes. He recently hit the game-winning three-point shot to give Italy a 76-73 victory over Spain in Group F at the Sportland U20 European Championship. He scored 27 points in the game behind 10-of-16 shooting.
It would be easy to make the general assumption that Marc Loving is going to slide right into the rotation as the defending Mr. Basketball in Ohio and be a productive player from the opening tip.
That may very well happen, but there are still some question marks surrounding Loving’s game. He needs to add strength before he bangs around down low or even from the high post in the Big Ten and could improve his mid-range jump shot. Considering the enigma that is Amir Williams, head coach Thad Matta could use Loving as a consistent rebounder and someone who averages close to 10 points a night.
Kameron Williams also has the potential and scoring ability to truly make an impact right away. However, his playing time in a crowded backcourt that already includes Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and even Sam Thompson, when the team goes big, is something to consider.
If Williams becomes a legitimate threat from behind the three-point line and holds his own on defense, both he and Loving will be given ample opportunity to prove their worth, especially early in the season.
For much of his career, any offense that Aaron Craft provided Ohio State was a much-welcomed, if unexpected, bonus.
After all, he has been distributing to the likes of Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Jon Diebler and others during his time in Columbus and has always been better known for his defensive prowess.
However, Craft’s offense will be needed in the 2013-14 season. LaQuinton Ross is expected to turn the corner and become a premier scorer (as is Sam Thompson), but the Buckeyes are going to need their senior leader to find the basket as well as play lockdown defense.
Craft emerged late last year as a legitimate scoring threat in critical contests against Indiana and Michigan State. He also buried a game-winning three-pointer in the NCAA tournament against Iowa State and appeared more confident attacking the rim than ever before.
If he can carry that over, and perhaps even improve on that spotty jumper a bit, Ohio State will feel much better about its offense as a whole.
Losing the Big Ten’s leading scorer in Deshaun Thomas is difficult to overcome on offense, regardless of any hypothetical jumps the current players on the roster are expected to make.
Ohio State will certainly look to run more in 2013-14 with a guard-oriented lineup that will create plenty of turnovers and fast-break opportunities, but there will be the inevitable grind-it-out games in the Big Ten that there are every season. The Buckeyes will be much better off if they can consistently hit three-point shots in their half-court sets.
This is such a huge wildcard, because, on paper, the Buckeyes are loaded with players who should be able to hit from behind the arc. LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Kameron Williams and even point guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott have the potential to be threats from downtown.
Nevertheless, there hasn’t been a level of consistency from any of these players (outside of Williams, who hasn’t had a chance yet), which is why Ohio State shot just 36 percent as a team last year from three-point range.
If the Buckeyes can improve on that, they will be much better positioned to contend in the Big Ten.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.