The Candidates: Keita Bates-Diop, Marc Loving, Jae'Sean Tate, Sam Thompson, Kam Williams
The Ohio State Buckeyes have a good chance to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten this year, but they already have one position that is a bit of an offensive liability—Amir Williams and Trey McDonald at center.
They can't afford to get duds out of their starting small forward and expect to actually win basketball games.
Here's looking at you, Sam Thompson, because it's no accident that Thad Matta looks dejected in the above picture.
Thompson is way too athletically gifted to be averaging less than 8.0 PPG, but lo and behold, that's exactly what he has done in each of his past three years for Ohio State. Every now and then he'll erupt for 18 points, but Thompson had 12 games last season with four or fewer points, despite playing at least 16 minutes in every single game.
That's simply inexcusable and unacceptable now that the three leading scorers from last season are gone.
Thompson will have every opportunity to prove that he deserves to remain in the starting lineup as a senior, but I expect Matta to have a short leash, given the number of other quality options available.
Both Bates-Diop and Tate are rated among the 15 best incoming small forwards in the nation. Matta proved during the 2011-12 season that he has no issue with burying highly touted freshmen on the bench, but that was a team led by Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, William Buford and Aaron Craft that spent the entire season ranked in the Top 10.
Bates-Diop and Tate might not start—especially in November—but expect them to receive a much larger chunk of playing time than LaQuinton Ross did as a freshman.
There is another choice, though, and I think Loving has a real shot at becoming the starter.
He only averaged 10.9 minutes per game last year as a freshman, but he put up 16.1 points per 40 minutes, despite shooting 21.9 percent from the field and 13.3 percent from three-point range over the final two months of the season.
Loving showed a lot of promise early in the year and was a significantly better source of rebounds and free-throw attempts than Thompson.
The Buckeyes will likely open the season with Thompson starting at small forward, while using Loving as a backup for Anthony Lee at power forward, but Loving will be in the starting lineup by the start of conference play, unless Thompson finally decides to deliver on three years' worth of unfulfilled potential.