The 2013-14 Ohio State basketball team is on the short list of contenders for the Big Ten crown, but that doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing all the way through March.
There are issues to be concerned about as the season rapidly approaches, but that is not a unique situation to Columbus. Even the strongest teams in the nation have some weaknesses, otherwise coaches would have nothing to stress about this time of year.
Read on to see five specific issues that should worry Buckeyes fans to a certain degree.
Ohio State wasn’t a particularly strong rebounding team in 2012-13, and that was with Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel in tow.
Thomas led the Buckeyes in rebounding per game (5.9) and was critical in Thad Matta’s small-ball lineup that he often utilized. Thomas’ rebounding prowess allowed Matta the luxury of flexibility with the lineup he may not have this season.
Ravenel was also a solid rebounder and was always ready to bang bodies with taller and more physical players in the paint. Amir Williams needs to develop that level of toughness if the Buckeyes are going to rebound at a Big Ten championship caliber this year.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the top returning rebounder on the roster. The fact that the starting shooting guard is the best board man on the team is certainly something to be concerned about. Thanks to this reality, freshman Marc Loving will be counted on to help in the rebounding department.
But it all will likely boil down to Williams’ ability to improve in the rebounding department.
Amir Williams is the only big man on Ohio State’s roster with serious game experience heading into the 2013-14 season, which is certainly cause for concern.
While Trey McDonald showed some flashes of potential at times last year, he never really played important or significant minutes. With no more Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel, a lot will fall on the inconsistent shoulders of Williams.
Freshman Marc Loving may not have the size of a prototypical Big Ten bruiser, but Thad Matta is going to need considerable production from the defending Mr. Basketball in Ohio. If the Buckeyes do utilize a small-ball lineup, it will likely be Loving playing the role of undersized “center.”
Rebounding, interior defense and paint scoring are all question marks for the Scarlet and Gray. A little more depth in the paint would provide clearer answers.
It’s not much of a stretch to visualize LaQuinton Ross challenging for the Big Ten’s scoring title in the 2013-14 season. After all, his skill set presents defenders with a pick-your-poison situation, meaning Ross will always be in a position to succeed in some fashion.
He is a threat from behind the three-point line, posting up smaller defenders and driving around slower opponents. The nation was introduced to his all-around game in the NCAA tournament when Ross was the best player on the floor for extended stretches in almost every postseason game.
However, that hot streak was a very small sample size, and one that occurred with opposing defenses overly concerned with the Big Ten’s leading scorer, Deshaun Thomas. It remains to be seen whether Ross can be a consistent go-to option over the course of an entire schedule and as the primary scorer.
While Ross probably will thrive in his new role, it would be wise for Buckeyes fans not to automatically assume Thomas’ scoring will be replaced in whole by the stretch forward.
As a sophomore, Aaron Craft shot an impressive 50 percent from the field and a serviceable, although not spectacular, 36 percent from behind the three-point line. As a freshman, that three-point percentage was 38 percent.
As a junior, Craft attempted far more total shots and three-point shots than his first two years on campus, all while getting to the free-throw line less than he did as a sophomore. Yes, he scored more points, but he did so in a much less efficient manner (41.7 percent from the field and 30 percent from downtown).
To his credit, Craft began to reinvent his offensive game down the stretch in key matchups against Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin. He attacked the lane more and settled for fewer outside shots.
That being said, he is still the point guard for a team with Final Four aspirations and a weak interior game. Thad Matta is going to need Craft to hit a big jumper or two over the course of the season if the Buckeyes are going to accomplish their goals.
Thad Matta has been busy this offseason putting the finishing touches on one of the best 2014 recruiting classes in the country. However, he and the rest of the Buckeyes coaching staff desperately want to add another big man, and it seems like they are on the outside looking in on many options.
Harkening back to the lack of interior depth already mentioned, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will both be seniors in 2014. Furthermore, recruit Dave Bell is seen as more of a long-term project that could reap benefits down the road, but there is a gaping need for another big man in this class.
Ohio State is considered a player in the Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner, Elbert Robinson, Goodluck Okonoboh and Payton Dastrup sweepstakes, but the Scarlet and Gray are fighting uphill battles against some of the best programs in the nation.
Many think Okafor will end up at Duke, Turner is high on Kansas, and the Buckeyes were a little late to the party for Okonoboh and Dastrup. Robinson may be Matta’s best chance, but Louisville and Georgetown are pursuing his services as well.
It would be a very disappointing finish to an impressive recruiting effort if Matta can’t land another big man for 2014.
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