The Ohio State basketball program is about to find out if winning a Big Ten championship without the benefit of an established superstar is a possibility. The only way to do that is with critical contributions from the bench and a scoring-by-committee approach.
With that in mind, what will the bench actually look like for the Buckeyes in the 2014-15 campaign?
We projected the starting lineup earlier this offseason, and the thought here is that Ohio State goes with Shannon Scott, D’Angelo Russell, Sam Thompson, Marc Loving and Anthony Lee.
It is certainly possible that Amir Williams cracks that group alongside Lee in the frontcourt, but the bench will be an imperative part of the attack either way.
The backcourt is not as deep as it has been in the past, which is why Russell’s commitment is so critical. He is versatile enough to play either point guard or shooting guard and gives Thad Matta an option at either position.
In terms of bench production, one person fans should not overlook is Kam Williams. Williams redshirted last year after a preseason bout with mononucleosis, so he is virtually a freshman in terms of experience. He can absolutely drain it from downtown, slash to the lane off the bounce and finish at the rim in dramatic fashion.
In fact, Williams could very well challenge Thompson for the title of best Buckeye dunker this year. He is also very quick with his hands and lateral speed, which will help him provide pressure defense next to Scott.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports came away impressed:
Since there is not a ton of backcourt depth, Ohio State will utilize a number of stretch forwards in the lineup.
Keita Bates-Diop is the first name that comes to mind off the bench in this category. He can consistently hit shots from the outside, but at 6’7” with tons of athleticism, Bates-Diop will be best helping out in the rebounding department, running the floor, beating guys off the dribble and posting up smaller defenders.
Rothstein also thinks Bates-Diop will make an impression right away:
Bates-Diop’s fellow freshman, Jae’Sean Tate, is shorter at 6’4", but he is more comfortable playing taller than he actually is down on the blocks. Tate is incredibly strong, will outmuscle people for rebounds, finish through contact at the rim and give the Buckeyes a smaller option at power forward in more athletic rotations.
Down low, Trey McDonald returns after averaging two points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks a game last year. With the presence of Lee, it’s difficult to imagine McDonald playing more minutes than he did a season ago even with an extra year of experience under his belt. He’s not the best rebounder, nearly invisible on the offensive end and an average defender.
If nothing else, McDonald does give Matta a physical force in the paint who isn’t afraid to use his fouls.
McDonald aside, the key component on the bench in terms of big guys is Amir Williams. Matta commented as much, via Daniel Rogers of The Lantern:
We need Amir to play well. We need Amir to play consistently on both ends. We gotta get him back to tracking the ball, we gotta get him back to blocking shots more actively around the rim in terms of challenging shots … When he’s played well, we’ve played well. I know that.
Williams posted nightly averages of 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game last year behind 59.8 percent shooting from the field. However, he will no longer be the default big guy with Lee, so he needs to show drastic improvement if he hopes to play down the stretch of important games.
Williams is underrated as a shot-blocker and should see better rebounding numbers as a senior. Despite the criticism he so often receives, Williams has improved his scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage and shot-blocking numbers every season since he arrived on campus and will be a solid piece in 2014-15.
Yes, Williams is frustrating to many in Buckeye Nation, but with another low-post presence in Lee to help on the boards and draw some attention away from opposing defenses, we could see Williams’ best-ever season at Ohio State.
If that is ultimately the case, then the big man may just go out as a Big Ten champion.
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