If a college basketball season that resulted in a conference tournament title and a trip to the Elite Eight could ever be considered disappointing, Ohio State Buckeyes’ 2012-13 campaign was.
That’s not to say the accomplishments weren’t impressive, just that falling one victory over mid-major Wichita State away from the Final Four is difficult to swallow from the Buckeyes perspective.
If the Scarlet and Gray hope to atone for that loss and make it back to the Final Four this year, there are a few things that will make or break the season. Assuming good health, this team will absolutely play lockdown defense and win plenty of games because of it, but there are some question marks that have to be answered.
Read on to find out what they are.
Ohio State was not a strong rebounding team in 2012-13, and that was before Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel (arguably the team’s top two rebounders last year) left campus.
In fact, the Buckeyes tied for 130th in the country in total rebounds per game alongside powerhouses such as Niagara, Gardner-Webb and Appalachian State. Considering the fact that Thomas led the team in rebounds per game (5.9) and was critical in Thad Matta’s small-ball lineup, rebounding is certainly a concern this year.
With Thomas and Ravenel gone, Amir Williams will need to develop the level of toughness that will allow him to bang bodies with the physical post presences in the Big Ten. If he can’t do that and improve his rebounding prowess, a Big Ten title seems like a particularly tall order.
Lenzelle Smith Jr., who is probably the best remaining rebounder on the squad from the shooting guard spot, and Marc Loving will need to help Williams, but the big man’s rebounding could make or break the Buckeyes season.
Ohio State has a chance to go as many as ten deep in the rotation this year, but there are really only five or six players Thad Matta can absolutely rely on (depending on your opinion of Amir Williams’ reliability).
Other than Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Williams, Matta will have Amedeo Della Valle, Trey McDonald and two freshmen at his disposal off the bench. The development of those freshmen will be critical for this squad’s depth.
Marc Loving is the defending Mr. Basketball in Ohio and has a chance to impact the game on both ends of the floor for the Buckeyes. He will be the de facto big man in Matta’s small-ball lineup, and will need to rebound and score to be effective.
Kameron Williams is a potential scoring machine from the off guard spot and will earn plenty of playing time if he hits from downtown and slashes the lane like he is capable of. Throw in impressive defense thanks to his quickness and Williams could be a critical newcomer in the Big Ten.
The fact that Deshaun Thomas is no longer on the roster will be brought up repeatedly during the season if Ohio State struggles on offense, but it is not without reason.
Thomas led the entire Big Ten in scoring per game and was effective from the paint, midrange and behind the three-point line. It is a significant loss for a team that wasn’t particularly great on offense anyway.
The Buckeyes are going to need other players to step up and replace the lost scoring production of Thomas. Aaron Craft stepped up his offensive game down the stretch last year and is a very capable penetrator off the dribble, but he isn’t going to transform into a game-changing scorer just because he is a senior.
This is why LaQuinton Ross, who showed flashes of brilliance in the NCAA tournament, and Sam Thompson must become elite offensive players. Each is capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor and is athletic enough to beat their man off the dribble.
Look for each to average somewhere between 14 and 17 points a night if the offense is working like it should.
Ohio State struggled at times last year in its half-court offensive sets, and that was with the Big Ten’s leading scorer Deshaun Thomas in the fold.
One way to counteract potential scoring issues this year will be to speed up the pace of play. The conference as a whole has a misplaced reputation (just blame Wisconsin for it) as a sluggish, grind-it-out league, but the Buckeyes have plenty of athletes to get out in transition.
Look for Ohio State to turn defense into offense with the likes of Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson and even Kameron Williams. Each of these players is capable of creating turnovers with their stellar defense, which will lead to easy baskets on the other end of the court.
If the Buckeyes consistently score in transition this year, half-court offensive issues may not be as much of a concern.
Like it or not, three-point shooting has become a major factor in who wins or loses almost every college basketball game.
Ohio State has plenty of players on its roster capable of shooting from behind the three-point line, yet only Sam Thompson finished the 2012-13 season at better than 40 percent, and he was at 40.4 percent. More Buckeyes are going to have to find their stroke from downtown this year if the Final Four is the ultimate goal.
LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft in particular need to shoot more effectively from long range. Craft will pick and choose his spots, but his penetration should open up the floor for the wing shooters to get clean looks. Furthermore, look for Kameron Williams to give the Scarlet and Gray a boost in this department.
There will be games this year when Ohio State needs to hit a big shot from behind the arc. Whether they do so or not could make or break the season.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.