Thad Matta’s 10th season at the helm for the Ohio State basketball team is officially underway.
While actual games are still a few weeks off, official practices have begun and Big Ten championship expectations are in place. Anything short of a Final Four would have to be considered somewhat of a disappointment considering the returning pieces on the roster.
Read on to see some early takeaways from the start of practices.
Yes, you read that right.
According to Kyle Rowland of ElevenWarriors.com, LaQuinton Ross may actually see some minutes at the 5 position in what would be a very undersized version of Thad Matta’s small-ball lineup. Ross is similar in stature to Deshaun Thomas, who filled this role at times last year, so perhaps it isn’t as crazy as it first appears.
Ross is a candidate for post minutes because of all the work he put in during the offseason. He went through hours of rebounding drills and worked on getting stronger in the gym in preparation for the rugged Big Ten.
In fact, Ross put on 10 pounds of muscle this summer, which will help in the durability department for the swingman who has never actually started an Ohio State game.
There aren’t many reliable options behind Amir Williams at center for Matta. Apparently, Ross is one of them.
Ohio State struggled out of the gates in Big Ten play last year but surged down the stretch to a conference tournament title and an Elite Eight appearance behind the use of a smaller lineup and more guards.
The Buckeyes’ No. 1 strength heading into the 2013-14 campaign is their defensive prowess, especially in the backcourt. Aaron Craft is one of the best defenders in the nation, Shannon Scott isn’t far behind as a Robin to Craft’s Batman and pieces like Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson can hold their own.
With so many defensive pieces and a half-court offense that may still be a question mark, the coaching staff and players know it will work to their benefit to push the tempo and force turnovers.
Just take Smith’s word for it in this ElevenWarriors.com interview:
For coach Matta to already start putting presses in is exciting for us, because that means we're already starting to 'click' on defense. We've got some speed demons here, guys who are long, athletic and can get steals. That's going to be a big part of our game this year.
Aaron Craft covers up his deficiencies in the jump shooting department better than perhaps anyone in the country covers up a weakness.
He plays lockdown defense so effectively that opposing coaches have to entirely retool their game plans, he finds the open man much more frequently than he turns it over from the point guard spot and he became a better attacker of the basket down the stretch in 2012-13.
That being said, Craft knows his jump shot must improve in his senior season. Per Rowland of ElevenWarriors.com said he hopes to be playing in the NBA a year from now, and you can bet scouts will be paying attention to how he shoots from the perimeter.
Craft overhauled his shot this summer with the help of assistant coaches Chris Jent and Greg Paulus. The result is more confidence in his stroke—and why not considering Jent was the one who helped LeBron James tinker with his perimeter shot?
Amedeo Della Valle didn’t do much but entertain fans at the end of blowouts during his freshman campaign, and that wasn’t easy on the youngster.
In fact, he said at media day that he was close to returning to Italy because he didn’t think there was a chance he would see the court much at Ohio State. Fortunately for Thad Matta and Co., Della Valle decided to stick it out, and his confidence is sky-high after a productive summer.
Della Valle hit multiple game-winning shots at the Euro Championships for his Italian squad, leading the team to its first gold medal in 30 years and winning the MVP along the way. The sharpshooter said his summer performance made him excited for the upcoming season.
For what it’s worth, according to LaQuinton Ross, Della Valle has been the most consistent player during the first two weeks of practice.
The narrative surrounding this Ohio State basketball team all offseason has been that LaQuinton Ross is the one who will replace Deshaun Thomas in the scoring department.
After all, we've heard about Ross’ potential since he arrived in Columbus as a highly touted freshman, and we finally saw him putting it all together during the 2013 NCAA tournament. And there is little doubt Ross will score this year (although it’s a bit unfair to expect him to completely replace Thomas’ production).
That being said, the Scarlet and Gray are going to need someone besides Ross to find the basket in half-court sets, and that is where Sam Thompson will step up. He said he shot every single day to improve his jumper and is very aware he will need to score this year.
Thompson was the only Buckeye to shoot 40 percent from behind the three-point line, and those totals could improve this year.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter: @ScottPolacek.