The team goals for the Ohio State basketball team are fairly clear cut—a Big Ten title, a conference tournament championship, a trip to the Final Four and a national title.
While those may be ambitious, the only chance the Buckeyes have at accomplishing everything on that list is if the individual players play up to their potential. Read on to see a pass-fail mark for the top six guys in Thad Matta's rotation.
Setting the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as the pass-fail mark for Aaron Craft is a high bar, but he likely has even higher aspirations for himself. In fact, Craft is on the short list of candidates for National Player of the Year—something he has never won in his illustrious defensive career.
Craft impacts the game without the ball in his hands arguably more than any other player in the nation. He draws charges, darts into passing lanes and suffocates opposing ball-handlers for 40 minutes, wrecking game plans in the process.
He should have more of an impact on the offensive end this year as a senior, but Craft’s game and season will be defined by what he does on defense.
Shannon Scott is no longer just the player that Thad Matta recruited instead of Trey Burke.
Ohio State made a late-season charge in 2012-13 when Matta started giving Scott more minutes in the backcourt with Craft. Both Scott and Craft rank among the best defenders in the nation on their own, and when paired together can win games on the back of their pressure alone.
Turnovers and easy opportunities on the other end will be critical for an Ohio State squad that may struggle at times to score in the half court.
Scott may come off the bench, but he will play enough significant minutes that a spot on the All-Big Ten Defensive Team is a solid minimum goal. In fact, he was a part of that squad last year, when he came off the bench for Matta in a similar role.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. is almost the forgotten man in Ohio State’s rotation.
He doesn’t have the scoring prowess of LaQuinton Ross or play defense like Aaron Craft or Shannon Scott, but he does a little bit of everything. In fact, Smith may be the best rebounder on the Buckeye roster now that Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel are no longer on campus.
For Smith to have a successful year, he needs to be a consistent contributor all season. If he tallies 12 points and six boards a night, Thad Matta will probably be satisfied. Smith is more than capable of putting up better numbers than that, but this is just the pass-fail line.
Senior leadership from Smith will also be important in 2013-14.
LaQuinton Ross was the benefactor of most of the headlines and media attention this offseason as the next premier scorer for Ohio State, but Sam Thompson could surprise everyone and lead the Buckeyes in scoring.
Thompson was the only one on the team who shot at least 40 percent from behind the three-point line last year, which is a minimum pass-fail line for this year. If defenses focus too much on Ross or the penetration of Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft, Thompson will have plenty of open opportunities.
Look for Thompson to do much more than fill up the highlight reel with an aerial display of dunks. He will be one of the better defenders on a squad that is loaded with elite talent at that end, and will also take advantage of open looks on the offensive side.
The bar has been set high for LaQuinton Ross this year, especially with Deshaun Thomas no longer around to lead the conference in scoring, and much of Ohio State’s success will depend on if Ross can live up to those expectations.
Ross doesn’t have to lead the league in points, but he needs to prove that his NCAA tournament performance wasn’t a fluke. He has more offensive potential than almost any player in the entire Big Ten, meaning anything less than an all-conference season would be disappointing.
The Buckeyes are going to need his offensive production if they hope to win the league title and challenge for another Final Four. Incredible defense can only get you so far—someone has to score the basketball.
The 2013-14 season will be a defining moment in Amir Williams’ career.
He came to campus as a McDonald’s All-American with NBA aspirations, but has fallen quite short of those expectations thus far. Following in the big-man footsteps of Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger isn’t going to happen anymore, but Williams can resurrect his collegiate legacy by anchoring Ohio State down low as an upperclassman.
Let’s call eight points and eight rebounds the Amir Williams double-double this season. Whenever Williams posts a stat line like this, the Buckeyes will have a great chance at winning.
Matta basically knows what he is going to get from Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and even Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Shannon Scott, but Williams is the biggest question mark. If he delivers, Ohio State will deliver.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.