The backcourt the Ohio State basketball team trots on the floor in the 2014-15 season will look drastically different than it has the past four years.
The frontcourt has seen the likes of Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, LaQuinton Ross and David Lighty shuffle in and out over that time span, but the one constant was always Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. at the guard spots. Of course, Jon Diebler was also a major part of the guard rotation early in Craft’s tenure.
Clearly, losing Craft leaves a formidable hole on the roster.
He was the best defensive player in the nation and often controlled games from that end of the floor, created opportunities for himself and others with his penetration and was an extension of Thad Matta on the floor.
As for Smith, the lefty was certainly inconsistent at times during his career, but he provided solid defense, three-point touch and underrated rebounding. In fact, Smith’s ability to crash the glass will be the part of his game that is missed most in Columbus, especially when Amir Williams is on the floor at center.
So, what will the backcourt look like in 2014-15 for the scarlet and gray?
The primary holdover is Shannon Scott, who has played his way into Matta’s rotation with Craft-like defense, quickness in the open floor and the ability to get to the rim off the bounce.
He will have a much bigger responsibility on both ends of the floor without Craft and will probably be more comfortable in a defined point guard role in his senior season. Scott often played both point and shooting guard in a single game and struggled to find a rhythm at times.
Sam Thompson is primarily a forward, but he can also fill in as a shooting guard with his athleticism if needed.
Buckeye Nation is probably most excited about the addition of incoming recruit D’Angelo Russell, though.
Will D'Angelo Russell start as a freshman?
He is lightning fast with the ball in his hands, can hit open teammates and fit passes through incredibly narrow lanes and has the versatility to play either guard position effectively.
As most Matta recruits are, Russell is also capable of excelling on defense thanks to his lateral quickness and ability to create turnovers and havoc.
The part of Russell’s game that will appeal most to Buckeyes fans is his ability to shoot from behind the three-point line, especially after the 2013-14 season that was built brick-by-brick from the start of the schedule.
Matta alluded to that shooting prowess and Russell’s overall game after he committed to Ohio State, via Ben Axelrod of Scout.com:
The first time I ever saw him play, he had six 3s in the first half. The second half, he didn’t take one, and probably had 10 assists. He’s got something about him. He takes and makes big shots. He wants the ball in his hands at crucial points in the game. He is very very complete.
Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop are two recruits coming to Columbus alongside Russell, but they are both classified as small forwards. However, they are capable shooters as well, and Bates-Diop is probably more suited to play in the backcourt than Tate even though Bates-Diop is taller.
Lost in the hype surrounding Matta’s excellent recruiting class is Kameron Williams.
He was supposed to contribute as a freshman during the 2013-14 campaign, but he battled mononucleosis early in the year and never got a chance to get his legs underneath him before Big Ten play. Williams was redshirted instead.
He could develop into the best three-point shooter on the team and brings many of the same traits to the table that Russell does. Williams is quick in the open floor and can slash to the lane with the ball in his hands.
He will even challenge Thompson for the title of best dunker on the team, although the returning senior gets the nod here until proven otherwise.
The Ohio State backcourt will be unfamiliar to fans in the early season, but it will be turning heads by the time Big Ten play arrives.
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