This preview and more on Ohio State and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 11 Ohio State Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-8 (13-5 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Thad Matta (250-73 at Ohio State)
Big Ten projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Unfortunately for Thad Matta, Ohio State’s outlook begins with who is no longer around. That’s because forward Deshaun Thomas and his Big Ten-leading 19.8 points per game are gone, along with the reliable services of post man Evan Ravenel.
Considering that center Amir Williams is far from a finished product and struggles to maintain intensity, the exhausted eligibility of Ravenel is noteworthy.
Thomas, meanwhile, leaves a rather gaping hole. The free-wheeling lefty led the Buckeyes in 29 of their 37 games as a junior last season, and his offensive creativity will be sorely missed.
Now the good news: Matta has the program at an elite level despite having to overcome early NBA defections from the likes of Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Kosta Koufos, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger over the years, and there is plenty of athleticism and tenacity left on the roster.
Senior Aaron Craft is the catalyst on both ends of the floor and should receive help once again from Shannon Scott, who made major strides last season. Lenzelle Smith Jr. is yet another proven performer at guard.
On the wing, the Buckeyes have three face-up forwards in the 6-7 range in LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and freshman Marc Loving, who all bring an array of gifts to the table.
Williams represents OSU’s very limited post game, and while he’s the team’s lone shot-eraser, he also isn’t nearly as adept at help defense and shutting down pick-and-roll plays as Ravenel. A big growth year from the 6-11 Williams would be a boon for the Buckeyes, but may not be crucial. Matta is more than willing to play a small lineup this season. Plus, Ohio State is blessed with a lengthy shutdown defender in Thompson and will be able to create mismatches on offense with Ross, who stands a legit 6-8.
Ross shot forward in the 2013 postseason with huge threes and athletic finishes at the basket, causing Arizona coach Sean Miller to label him a “future star.” He could pick up a lot of the scoring load left behind by Thomas. Ross averaged 8.3 points in only 16.9 minutes as a sophomore.
Loving provides even more shooting and versatility and could be an ideal fit as a 4-man in Matta’s system. However, he and Thompson are not polished rebounders. Meanwhile, Trey McDonald, athletic and decently skilled, is still trying to find a spot in Matta’s rotation. He played in only 19 games last season.
Craft has carved out a well-deserved reputation as an elite defender and intense competitor. Now the challenge for Craft is to add onto last season’s averages of 10.0 points and 4.6 assists per game. When asked what new full-time assistant coach and former Duke point guard Greg Paulus might do for the senior, Matta jokes, “Hopefully he can get him to shoot 47 percent from the 3-point line for starters. That would be good.”
The coaches actually would accept Craft simply taking and making a few more important jumpers — like the trey he splashed against Iowa State that put the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16.
Scott is a minimal threat from the perimeter — he hit only 11 3-pointers in ’12-13 — but gives OSU a second ball-handler and another menacing on-ball defender. He’s especially skilled at creating opportunities for others with the shot clock winding down.
The off-guard position is interesting with Smith in the role of steady senior, lanky Amedeo Della Valle capable of providing a spark, and freshman Kameron Williams a potential microwave off the bench.
One of the top forward prospects in the Midwest, Marc Loving earned Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” and averaged 21.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game as a prep senior. Still, Loving is a finesse player who will have to adapt to Big Ten physicality. Kameron Williams is a deluxe scorer who can stroke it from deep and already has an effective floater.
Factoid: 7. Ohio State has had at least one player drafted in each of the last seven years, the longest such streak in the nation.
Matta demands constant effort and smarts on defense, and the results have been borderline spectacular over the years. Ohio State, in fact, has been one of the best teams in the country at defending without fouling, and that needs to be — and should be — a calling card once again.
The offense will jell eventually with Ross poised for a breakout season, and the ball movement leading to shared wealth. Newcomers Loving and Williams should augment nicely.
Rebounding, however, could be at a premium. The Buckeyes will need a collected effort on the backboards if they are to again compete for a Big Ten title.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25