In just two short seasons we have seen the entire spectrum of possibility from Ohio State swingman LaQuinton Ross.
At times he has looked like a premier NBA prospect who could see his name called early on draft day in the future, while far too often he looks lost on the court (especially on defense), experiences turnover problems and doesn’t contribute enough on the boards.
Call it inconsistency or simply not hitting his stride yet, but there is still plenty of room for Ross to grow as he enters his junior year. Where Ross falls on the spectrum that ranges from brilliance to questionable play at best will ultimately define Ohio State’s 2013-14 season, making him not only the Buckeyes’ X-factor but perhaps the biggest X-factor in the entire Big Ten race as well.
The Buckeyes struggled at times on offense last year, and that was with the conference’s top scorer in Deshaun Thomas. It is generally assumed that Ross will be Ohio State’s No. 1 option to replace that production, largely because of his overall brilliance in the NCAA tournament.
Thomas and Aaron Craft may have been the headline generators, but it was Ross who was the best player on the floor for extended stretches against Iowa State and Arizona in the NCAA tournament. He finished 6-of-10 from the field and 3-of-5 from downtown against the Cyclones and scored 17 points, including the game-winner against the Wildcats.
Heck, he was the Buckeyes’ best player in the loss to Wichita State and the only source of offense for much of the game. If Thad Matta gets the Ross we saw for much of March, Thomas’ lost offensive production may not be as much of a concern as many think.
Will LaQuinton Ross lead the Big Ten in scoring?
But therein lies the main question and the bottom line of the X-factor reality. Whether Ross can replicate his incredible March performances for 30-plus games in a brutal and physical Big Ten without Thomas diverting the attention of the defense is certainly up for debate.
Exactly how much attention did Thomas draw? Well, he shot nearly one-third of the Buckeyes’ field-goal attempts last year and oftentimes single-handedly made a team filled with defensive specialists more than passable on offense. Many of the open looks Ross saw down the stretch came because the opponents were well aware of these stats.
Need more proof Ross won’t be open nearly as often this year? Look at Ohio State’s roster heading into the 2013-14 campaign. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and even Amir Williams will scare any coach in the country when his team has the ball. In fact, the Buckeyes could be the best defensive team in the country.
But when it is the Buckeyes looking to score, only Ross and Sam Thompson will give serious pause to opposing coaches. Yes, Craft has the potential to be an offensive threat, but his jump shot still needs vast improvement.
Ross’ offense and overall production could be the difference between a Big Ten title and Final Four run and a disappointing effort that results in a middling fourth- or fifth-place finish in the league.
Ross is far too talented to not live up to the expectations. He is a lengthy stretch forward who can beat defenders off the dribble, shoot from anywhere in the gym and dominate games on the offensive end.
Of course, that’s what Buckeye Nation has been looking for since Ross committed to Matta’s program. Did we witness Ross, who still needs to work on his defense, rebounding and turnover propensity, turn the corner in March and start to put together all of his immense talents, or was it simply another peak in an inconsistent career filled with both peaks and valleys?
Buckeye Nation, and the rest of the Big Ten for that matter, eagerly awaits the answer.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.