When you have built a successful college basketball program like Thad Matta has at Ohio State, every individual season is a chapter in the larger picture that is your legacy and career.
Each chapter is full of storylines that ultimately determine whether or not it is a memorable one. The 2013-14 campaign will be no different for Matta’s Buckeyes.
Read on to see five storylines for this year.
Any discussion concerning how far Ohio State can go this season must include a segment on Amir Williams.
After all, he is the only center on the roster who has played significant minutes, and there really isn’t much behind him in terms of depth. If Williams falters again, Thad Matta may have to rely on Marc Loving to play in the post against bigger and stronger opponents once conference play begins.
Williams has been a disappointment thus far, but he is now an upperclassman with two full seasons under his belt. If he is ever going to make the jump, this is the year.
Williams doesn’t have to average double-digits points a night. If he can provide the Buckeyes will consistent rebounding and formidable interior defense, nobody will complain. It is easier said then done, but the talent is there. Now he has to deliver.
Ask any college basketball commentator, coach or opposing player and they will tell you that it doesn’t get better than Aaron Craft when it comes to perimeter defense.
He completely alters the course of a game without the ball in his hands by applying constant pressure, racking up steals, darting into passing lanes and drawing charges. Rarely do opposing guards get clean looks at the basket with Craft out there.
Despite the general knowledge that Craft is so formidable on defense, he has never won the National Player of the Year award. Those honors typically go to a big man who swats shots into the fifth row, which is undoubtedly valuable, but it doesn’t have the psychological effect that Craft’s suffocating pressure does over the course of a 40-minute game.
The all-time steals leader in Ohio State history is now a senior and will look to take home his first National Defender of the Year award. If he gets it, think of it as almost a career achievement recognition for one of the Big Ten’s best defenders ever.
Prepare yourself, at least early in the season, for plenty of discussion about Ohio State trying to replace Deshaun Thomas’ Big Ten-leading scoring totals.
While it may be an overplayed narrative, it is also one that has to be brought up because of how valuable Thomas was to the Buckeyes. He was the go-to man in a half-court offense that often stifled and often bailed out a squad that otherwise would have had plenty of troubles finding the basket.
The presumed replacement for Thomas as the offensive alpha dog is LaQuinton Ross. Ever since he arrived in Columbus, Ohio State fans have been enticed by his immense talent. But not until last year’s NCAA tournament did Ross finally tap into it on a consistent level.
Whether Ross is prepared to serve as the offense’s go-to man over the course of the entire season will play a large role in how far the Buckeyes advance in March. The guess here is that he will seize the moment.
The Big Ten may not be quite as deep as it was last year, but there still isn’t a conference in the country that is stronger from top to bottom.
That top tier likely includes three teams, although Wisconsin and perhaps even Iowa could have something to say about that. This is not to suggest Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State will run rampant over everyone else in the league (because they won’t), but these are the best three squads in the Big Ten.
That means the Buckeyes will be battling with the Mitten State’s two flagship universities all season. The Wolverines have to replace Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. but have plenty of young talent to surround Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary. And there may not be a better squad this side of Kentucky than Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
Not that Ohio State versus anything from Michigan needs more hype, but the Big Ten title will be decided between this trio.
Few teams in the country would have had the taste of disappointment in their mouths all offseason after a year that included a Big Ten tournament title and trip to the Elite Eight, but that is exactly what happened with Ohio State.
The Buckeyes were one victory away from going to their second straight Final Four, and all that stood in their way was the Wichita State Shockers from the Missouri Valley Conference. It seemed like a sure thing after narrow victories against Arizona and Iowa State, but that ended up not being the case.
The Shockers jumped out to a commanding lead, and the Buckeyes never recovered. Now that Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are seniors and Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Amir Williams and Shannon Scott are juniors, redemption will be on their minds.
It’s the last chance for this core group together.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.