The Ohio State men's basketball program is in a rare position as it enters the 2014-15 season—it is an under-the-radar threat in the Big Ten.
For years under Thad Matta, the Buckeyes have been seen as among the top one or two teams in the conference, but after losing to Dayton in the first game of the NCAA tournament and seeing Wisconsin run all the way to the Final Four, that’s not the case this year.
However, there is plenty of talent in place, and Jerry Meyer of 247Sports believes overlooking the Buckeyes could be dangerous, via Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors:
Ohio State is one of the top programs in the country. The stability and the consistency they have there has been impressive. Going into every year, I assume they could be a Final Four contender. Maybe they need a little bit of a punch here or a spark there as far talent infusion to be a team you think can win a national championship.
The starting lineup will be called upon to provide that spark. Here is a look at the projected starting five that Matta will lean on the most this season.
Point Guard: Shannon Scott
Aaron Craft was one of the best players ever to lace it up for Ohio State historically, but his absence this season will open up the floor for Shannon Scott to improve.
Scott is a natural point guard who had to play off the ball with Craft running the show. Now, he will be in charge of the Buckeyes on the offensive end and ideally unleash his game-changing speed on opponents all season. There are few players in the country as quick as Scott, and that will lead to easy opportunities off of turnovers for him and his teammates.
However, Scott’s most important role is the havoc creator on the defensive end, which is something he did so well when paired with Craft last year.
Ohio State wins with its defense under Matta, and Scott is the critical piece to its defensive-pressure blitz it utilizes every year. If he can create turnovers at a consistent clip, it will help what could be a mediocre offense again put up much better numbers.
Combo Guard: D’Angelo Russell
The one thing that could really help the Buckeyes offense avoid mediocrity is the presence of D’Angelo Russell.
The Scarlet and Gray shot an abysmal 32 percent from beyond the three-point line last year, and not a single player shot 36 percent or better. Freshman or not, Russell should drastically help those numbers, both with his own shooting and his ability to find open teammates when he forces defenders to collapse on his penetration.
Throw in his ball-handling skills and willingness to get out in transition, and Russell will make this offense look much better than last season. No longer will defenders be able to sag off the jumper like they did against Craft, which means penetration lanes will be more readily available for everyone.
We put him as a combo guard because he is versatile enough to play point or shooting guard (another one of his invaluable traits). In reality, his position will be "offensive weapon."
Small Forward: Sam Thompson
Sam Thompson will be Mr. Reliable in the Ohio State starting lineup if everything goes according to plan.
Let’s overlook the dunking for a minute. His raw athleticism alone means he is a threat to attack the basket on any possession, and as an upperclassman this season, the senior should do more of that. Thompson improved as the season wore on last year and actually led the team in three-point percentage at 35.5.
Therefore, a perfect season from Thompson from Matta’s point of view would likely be an assumed leadership role, attacking the basket more and consistent shooting from behind the three-point line. Thompson can also use that athleticism and length to serve as a disruptor on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Oh, and the fans probably wouldn’t mind a dunk or two either.
Power Forward: Marc Loving
Marc Loving may be the biggest question mark for the whole season.
On paper, he has all the tools. He is tall enough to bang around down low for rebounds, his footwork in the post is solid and he has a smooth stroke from the perimeter. Loving is also athletic and long (6'7", 215 lbs), which is the perfect combination to be a formidable defender.
However, fans only saw flashes of Loving’s potential last season. Yes, he impressed at Illinois, but there were far too many contests in which he simply disappeared. That could have been the byproduct of being a freshman more than anything else, and the thought here is that Loving will be much more consistent his second time around.
The Buckeyes need him to be.
Center: Anthony Lee
There is certainly a portion of Ohio State supporters who are tired of watching Amir Williams struggle to catch the ball down low, get pushed around on the block and put up pedestrian rebounding numbers from the center position.
Anthony Lee will be the best thing about this Buckeyes team for those fans.
Lee averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game last year for Temple and could very well put up double-doubles throughout the schedule for Matta’s bunch. His presence alone on the low blocks could open up shooters on the offensive side by forcing double-teams. It will also allow perimeter defenders to gamble on the other end because Lee is a natural shot-swatter.
Lee is the main reason opponents shouldn’t overlook the Buckeyes. They finally have a low-post presence again to go with that suffocating perimeter defender.
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