Ohio State Basketball: Biggest Challenges for Thad Matta in 2013-14

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

Ohio State Basketball: Biggest Challenges for Thad Matta in 2013-14

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    Thad Matta has built an elite college basketball program at Ohio State that regularly competes for Big Ten championships and Final Four appearances, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t unique challenges every year.

    Matta and the Buckeyes will be replacing leading scorer Deshaun Thomas in 2013-14 but should win plenty of games on the strength of their defense alone. They figure to compete with the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and perhaps Indiana or Wisconsin for a conference crown.

    Read on to see some of the challenges Matta will have to answer if Ohio State is going to reach its goals this year.

Balancing Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Shannon Scott

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    Having two capable guards competing for playing time is one of those problems that every coach in the country wants to have. Well, Thad Matta will have that issue in 2013-14 with Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Shannon Scott.

    Smith is a senior who may be the best rebounder on the squad, can score from behind the three-point line and is a formidable defender. He will likely be the starting shooting guard alongside Aaron Craft on opening night and deserves to be on the floor.

    However, Ohio State turned a corner last year when Scott started receiving more minutes. When Scott was paired with Craft opposing ball-handlers didn’t have much of a chance to get the offense going with the Buckeyes’ harassment. It led to turnovers and easy opportunities in transition, which Ohio State will need without Deshaun Thomas.

    Ultimately, both will see plenty of time this season, and who finishes the game in crunch time may depend on who has the hot hand on a given night.

How Often to Utilize the Small-Ball Lineup

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    While Shannon Scott receiving more minutes was critical to Ohio State’s strong finish last year, so was Thad Matta’s trust in his small-ball lineup.

    Deshaun Thomas often played the de-facto center spot in this look, which allowed the Buckeyes to get out in transition and exploit mismatches on the perimeter. Amir Williams isn’t exactly a strong rebounder anyway, so players like Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. made up for size disparity on the boards.

    However, Thomas is no longer on campus so the small-ball lineup will take a different look this year. Freshman Marc Loving or LaQuinton Ross will likely be asked to play the 5 spot if Matta tries to speed the pace up.

    Matchups will likely determine how much Matta uses this rotation, but when and how often to utilize it is one of the biggest challenges the Buckeyes’ coach will have in 2013-14.

Amedeo Della Valle or Kameron Williams?

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    The first six guys in Thad Matta’s rotation are basically set with Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Amir Williams and Shannon Scott, but the seventh through ninth spots are wide open.

    Assuming Marc Loving fills the seven role partially due to the lack of depth down low and partially because of his talent level, that leaves Amedeo Della Valle and Kameron Williams for the eighth slot.

    Della Valle didn’t see many significant minutes last year, but he had an impressive summer that included an MVP and European Championship with his Italian team. If he brings that type of production and confidence back with him to Columbus this year he could find himself in meaningful situations.

    Kameron Williams probably has more raw talent than Della Valle and will see plenty of time early on. He is an impressive three-point shooter and has explosiveness to get to the rim. He is also a solid defender, which is needed if you want to find a role in Matta’s system.

    Which one receives more playing time will be worth keeping an eye on.

Developing Trust for Amir Williams

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    Amir Williams hasn’t quite panned out as planned when he arrived on campus as a McDonald’s All-American, but that doesn’t mean Ohio State fans should abandon hope for the big man.

    He is still a formidable shot blocker who has flashed talent at times and is just now becoming an upperclassman. If he can develop into a better rebounder this year and continue to block shots down low, Williams can still be a productive player.

    How much trust Thad Matta has in Williams when he does struggle will be interesting to keep tabs on this year. There isn’t much behind him in terms of big men now that Evan Ravenel is gone, meaning Matta may have to stick with Williams through some inevitable mistakes.

    It will be up to Williams to perform well early in the season so his coach builds up some trust before Big Ten play begins.

Boosting LaQuinton Ross’ Confidence Early

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    While developing trust in his maligned big man will be an issue for Thad Matta, so will operating an offense that will be reliant on someone who has never started a game for Ohio State as the go-to option.

    LaQuinton Ross is being hailed as the replacement to Deshaun Thomas in terms of assuming the scoring load for the Buckeyes, and he is more than capable of doing so. However, his career has been plagued by inconsistency even though the talent is clearly in place.

    That is why boosting Ross’ confidence early in the season will be critical. Matta will have to find a way to put Ross in position to score early and often against some of the lighter nonconference competition Ohio State will face, even if it means playing him more minutes than usual in a blowout victory.

    Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.