Ohio State may have lost its leading scorer in Deshaun Thomas, but the talent is still in place to make a run at the national title. However, there are some questions that if not answered could also result in a second round exit.
The truth is probably somewhere in between, but for the Final Four and a Big Ten championship to be in play, the Buckeyes will need excellent play from a handful of contributors. Some individual awards may be in store (Aaron Craft Defensive Player of the Year?) on the national level if that happens.
Regardless of whether there is any national or conference-level recognition, let’s hold an awards banquet of our own. Read on to see predictions for Ohio State’s 2013-14 team awards.
Aaron Craft may be the odds-on favorite to take home the National Defensive Player of the Year award, so he is certainly going get the nod for the predicted Buckeyes’ team awards.
However, Ohio State’s defense is so tenacious and loaded that it isn’t as sure fire of a pick as it seems on the surface. Shannon Scott is one of the best perimeter defenders in the nation in his own right, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson are also formidable on that end of the floor.
But Craft impacts the game unlike anyone else. He draws charges, anticipates the moves of ball-handlers, racks up steals, deflects passes and harasses point guards for 40 minutes. He is a pest, and that is meant in the most flattering way possible.
Look for Craft to land on the radar of some NBA scouts based on his defense alone.
That’s right, our first major upset of this award ceremony comes in the Offensive Player of the Year category.
The narrative thus far in the offseason for the Ohio State basketball team has been that LaQuinton Ross will be the one to replace Deshaun Thomas’ scoring. While Ross certainly has the talent to do so, as we saw in the NCAA tournament, opposing defenses know this is what is expected as well.
Throw in the fact that Ross has never actually started a game for the Buckeyes with the extra defensive attention, and the situation is ripe for Sam Thompson to swoop in and lead the team in scoring. Thompson has the arsenal to score from behind the three-point line, mid-range and even down low against smaller defenders and will have plenty of open looks with Ross and Aaron Craft.
The only way Ohio State can reach the Final Four is if someone besides just Ross scores consistently. Thompson will do just that.
The Newcomer of the Year award for the Buckeyes comes down to the two freshmen that Thad Matta signed as his 2013 recruiting class.
Marc Loving is the stretch forward who will fill in for Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross at the 4 and 5 spots, while Kameron Williams is the high-scoring shooting guard who gives Ohio State depth behind Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson.
While Williams is probably the more natural scorer of the two and could have an immediate impact thanks to his athleticism, explosiveness and shooting ability, Loving will be the newcomer of the year because he will see more significant minutes.
There is simply a lack of depth in the frontcourt on this team behind Amir Williams, while the backcourt is loaded with upperclassmen. And Loving is no slouch either. He is the defending Mr. Basketball in Ohio, can score from inside the paint or mid-range and is a formidable defender.
Matta will need both freshmen to contribute though for the Buckeyes to be successful.
This Ohio State award almost isn’t fair because Shannon Scott will play a ton of minutes this year even if he isn’t a starter.
Scott was a major reason the Buckeyes turned it around down the stretch last season, thanks to his tenacious defense, timely passing and ability to turn turnovers into easy baskets in transition. When Scott was paired with Aaron Craft on the defensive end, it was almost impossible for opposing guards to run an offense thanks to the constant harassment.
Look for Scott to spell Craft at times this year, but he is at his best coming in relief of Lenzelle Smith Jr. or Sam Thompson and running alongside Craft in the backcourt. Scott’s defense will definitely be there, as will his impressive assist-to-turnover total, but whether he can hone his jump shot will ultimately determine how effective he is this year.
LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson may score more points, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Amir Williams may grab more rebounds and perhaps even Shannon Scott will tally more steals (although that is somewhat of a long shot), but Aaron Craft will be Ohio State’s MVP.
Craft is an extension of Thad Matta on the floor and demonstrates all the leadership abilities that a coach can ask for from his point guard. Color commentators may throw around every cliché in the book when describing Craft’s play as they call Buckeye games (gritty, tough, deceptively athletic, etc.), but they all apply.
He changes the game in incredibly unique ways, be it drawing charges, getting in the head of the opposing team’s best scorer or finding a way to get to the rim through penetration. His one real weakness is his jump shot, but he supposedly retooled it during the offseason and could be poised for some improvement.
The Buckeyes need a collective effort to reach the Final Four or win the Big Ten, but the most important and valuable player on the roster is certainly the point guard wearing No. 4.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.