At this point in the college basketball offseason, any news is typically bad news, and Ohio State received a serious dose of that recently.
D’Angelo Russell, who is the highest-rated of the four incoming freshmen Thad Matta landed for the 2014-15 season, did not begin the summer semester with the rest of his teammates. Bob Baptist of The Columbus Dispatch had the report.
Russell’s high school academic transcript still hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA. However, Matta seemed somewhat optimistic, via Baptist, saying, “We are hoping to have him here soon.”
Not only are the Buckeyes hoping to have Russell there soon, they absolutely need him there this season.
Last year’s offense fell somewhere between watching paint dry and watching the gory scenes in Game of Thrones on the painful-to-watch scale.
There was hardly any outside shooting (Ohio State shot 32 percent as a team from downtown and had exactly zero players shoot 36 percent or better), the ball movement was stagnant at best (227th in the nation in assists per game) and there was almost a refusal to get out in transition until it was already too late in many games. Floor spacing was a foreign concept at times as well.
It is a lot of pressure to put on a freshman’s shoulders, but Russell addresses almost all of those weaknesses right away.
He is an elite ball-handler and offensive creator who can get his own shots off the dribble with an explosive first step and an array of dazzling moves. Russell can also pull up and launch from behind the three-point line with deadly accuracy or serve as a catch-and-shoot guy when others have the ball in their hands.
Scoring is what gets talked about with Russell, especially given Ohio State’s struggles putting the ball in the basket last year, but he is an excellent passer as well who is more than willing to share the ball with open teammates.
Last year, the Buckeyes were so stagnant on offense because defenders could sag off ball-handlers Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, which cut off penetration for the entire team. There were simply no lanes to create anything off the bounce for the guards, and the middle was too crowded for their teammates to slash into from the wings.
Opposing defenses won’t get that luxury this season with Russell on the outside. He is versatile enough to play point guard in relief of Scott or shooting guard, so expect to see him on the floor at the start and end of games.
Perhaps most enticing for Buckeyes fans is the speed and transition opportunities a threesome of Russell, Scott and Sam Thompson bring to the table.
Russell is not just an offensive specialist though (would he have even been recruited by Matta if he was?).
Thanks to his lateral quickness and length at 6’4,” he can stay in front of ball-handlers and dart into passing lanes. Russell is not quite on Craft’s level on the defensive side, but he is more than capable of teaming up with Scott and creating the type of full-court havoc defense we often saw from the Buckeyes when they were trailing late in games last season (the Notre Dame comeback and Big Ten tournament comebacks come to mind).
Ultimately, this season will be a completely new look for an Ohio State program that has been dominated by names like Craft, Deshaun Thomas, LaQuinton Ross and Jared Sullinger over the past few years.
The loaded recruiting class is the future of the team, but Russell is the centerpiece of Matta’s group. Ohio State desperately needs him to complete a projected starting lineup of Scott, Russell, Thompson, Marc Loving and Anthony Lee.
Russell would be the true three-point threat on the outside in that fivesome, and his passing and ability to get out in transition would create easy looks for teammates.
Baptist provided some updates recently for Ohio State fans that are undoubtedly waiting on pins and needles when it comes to Russell’s status:
There is still plenty of time before the start of the season, so it’s not quite appropriate to panic just yet. However, any Big Ten title hopes and redemption plans the Buckeyes had for the 2014-15 campaign would immediately be put on hold without Russell in the backcourt.
Ohio State better hope that transcript looks alright.
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