Despite losing Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel in the offseason, Thad Matta and the Ohio State men's basketball coaching staff still have plenty of pieces to play with in the Buckeyes' 2013-14 lineup.
Matta has developed a reputation as someone who doesn’t play his bench much, but the Buckeyes will likely go anywhere from eight-to-10 deep with their rotation. Stalwarts like Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross will receive significant playing time, but there are other questions to be answered regarding the lineup.
Read on to see five of them.
Last season Thad Matta utilized a small-ball lineup with regularity, especially down the stretch. Deshaun Thomas often played the role of “big man,” as the Buckeyes simply put their best five players on the floor at once.
If we are naming Ohio State’s best five players this season, center Amir Williams probably doesn’t make the cut. That being said, he is the only experienced post player on the roster, but the Big Ten is loaded with paint presences.
So how often will Matta utilize the small-ball lineup that will likely feature freshman Marc Loving as the default center?
The answer will ultimately depend on a variety of factors, including the opponent each night, how Loving ends up playing as a youngster and whether Williams can make the jump that Buckeye fans are hoping he can as a junior.
There will be stretches during the season when Matta simply puts his best five players on the floor regardless of position. How much that happens is ultimately up to Williams.
Obviously, both Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith Jr. will be part of Thad Matta’s regular rotation, but which player receives more time and who will play in crunch time are intriguing questions.
Smith, who is a senior and arguably the best rebounder on the roster, will in all likelihood get the starting nod, but that is far less important than who plays down the stretch of tightly contested games.
Ohio State’s 2012-13 season turned around late in the schedule when Matta began to give Scott more playing time alongside Aaron Craft. Each is a terrific defender who regularly harasses opposing ball-handlers with ease, but when paired together, they shaped the outcomes of games based on the turnovers they created. Just ask Indiana.
The guess here is Scott will see more significant minutes, although both will be on the floor at times this year as well. The Buckeyes need the scoring Smith provides now that Deshaun Thomas is gone, and he is a capable defender in his own right.
Amedeo Della Valle was a crowd favorite as a freshman last season, but he rarely ever saw the court in significant moments. His job was basically to serve as the entertainment for the home fans that stuck around for the full 40 minutes of Buckeyes' blowout victories.
However, Della Valle showed some life as a scoring option this summer when he and his Italy squad won the U-20 European Championship. He hit two buzzer-beaters and was named the tournament’s MVP, which raises the question of whether he can give Ohio State some much-needed scoring this season.
At first glance, Della Valle is probably ninth or 10th in the rotation on paper, but the Buckeyes were not a particularly great three-point shooting team last year. If he can find his stroke early in the season and give Thad Matta another offensive option, we could see a little bit more of Della Valle in 2013-14.
A simple breakdown of Ohio State’s roster heading into the 2013-14 campaign shows that the Buckeyes are thin in the paint and loaded on the perimeter.
While Thad Matta only has the inconsistent Amir Williams, freshman Marc Loving and the relatively inexperienced Trey McDonald on the inside, he can play around with combinations that feature Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross and even Amedeo Della Valle on the outside.
That’s not even mentioning incoming freshman Kameron Williams, who is a formidable scoring option, incredibly quick and athletic (helping on both ends of the floor and in transition) and a solid three-point shooter. He will undoubtedly get some minutes early in the season. If he proves himself to be as talented as expected, he will stick around in the rotation in some manner all season.
It is crowded in the backcourt, but Williams will find a way to crack the rotation.
Some of the favorite pastimes of Ohio State fans include busting out the lyrics to Hang on Sloopy and Carmen Ohio, jumping in a freezing-cold lake in late November to prove how much they hate Michigan and ragging on Amir Williams for failing to live up to his recruiting hype.
Williams is now a junior and if he is ever going to live up to his McDonald’s All-American status that he had coming out of high school, this is the year. He is a talented shot-blocker whose best opportunity at earning some love from Buckeye Nation is by becoming a lockdown defender and by crashing the boards.
However, how quick of a hook will Thad Matta have if Williams struggles? A lot of that will depend on the trust level established with Trey McDonald and Marc Loving over the course of the year.
The Buckeyes need some type of paint presence in the physical Big Ten. Williams improving is their best bet this season.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.