Entering the 2013-2014 season, the Ohio State Men’s Basketball team is quite enigmatic.
At one end of the spectrum, a lot has changed for the Buckeyes. At the other end, weirdly enough, everything is relatively status quo.
The Buckeyes will bring back 10 of last year’s players, while adding two talented recruits into the fold. Meanwhile, however, those two player might be enough to undo the Buckeyes from the get-go.
After a season in which he put up the third-most points in Ohio State single-season history while leading the Buckeyes to an Elite Eight run, DeShaun Thomas declared for the NBA Draft and was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs with the 28th pick in the second round.
Of course, Thomas decided that playing overseas would be in his best interest until the NBA was ready for him, but nevertheless, Thomas, Ohio State’s premier offensive weapon, left the Buckeyes searching for answers on the offensive end.
Ohio State’s only senior last season, Evan Ravenel, certainly didn’t have the offensive impact of Thomas, but was certainly a formidable post-presence for the Buckeyes off of the bench.
With Amir Williams going through the motions for the majority of last season, Ravenel was often asked to come into the game early, play significant defense and body up the big-time post defenders of the Big Ten. He was ultimately successful on both ends of the floor, but his defense vastly outweighed his offensive numbers.
Obviously, the loss Thomas and Ravenel will be significant for many reasons, but the loss of Thomas may be the one that the Buckeyes may feel the most.
Who will replicate his 19.8 points per game? His 72 three-point field goals? His 733 points?
Those numbers aren’t going to be easy to reproduce, but most of that burden will fall on the shoulders of LaQuinton Ross.
Ross, the 6’8, 220 pound junior out of Mississippi, made his presence felt last season off of the bench for the Buckeyes after a suspension-filled freshman season.
In 2012-2013, Ross averaged 8.3 points per game while shooting 46.8% from the field, but his most notable games came when the lights were the brightest.
Against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ross scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting. Against Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, he scored 17 on 6-10 shooting. Against Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen, Ross hit the game winning shot on the way to another 17 points on 5-8 shooting. Finally, in the Elite Eight loss against Wichita State, Ross added 19 points and shot 9-10 from the free throw line.
If the NCAA tournament proved anything, it proved that Laquinton Ross might be ready to fill in for the legendary Thomas this season. With more minutes and more touches, it’s scary what Ross might be able to do.
As for the other sources of offense, the Buckeyes will certainly be looking for some input from the senior leaders- Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.– as well as some scoring from Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott.
Last season, the three veterans combined to average 32.0 points per game and if they’re going to succeed this season, they need to equal or surpass that number during the 2013-2014 campaign.
There will be added help this season from the likes of three-point specialist Amadeo Della Valle and big-time freshman recruits Marc Loving and Kam Williams. If the young-guns can make a significant impact on the offensive end, there’s no telling just how far this team can go.
Defensively, this might be the best teams in the country, which is fortunate as there are so many question marks on the offensive end.
Lead by the nation’s best on-ball defender, Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes will try to improve upon their 39.5% opponent field goal percentage and the 59.4 points-per-game that opponents were able to put on the Buckeyes.
This is where the loss of Evan Ravenel becomes crucial.
While the Buckeyes should have no problems guarding the perimeter, as Craft, Smith Jr and Thompson are tremendous defenders, they might have problems in the interior.
LaQuinton Ross, while a potentially fabulous scorer, isn’t known for a defense and should he start at the power forward position, he could very well be pushed around by some of the Big Ten’s surly power forwards.
At the center position, Amir Williams has an entirely different problem. He has major problems moving his feet. The size is there, the strength is there, but if he hasn’t improved his footwork, opponent centers- (McGary, Payne)- might just go to town on the poor kid.
Ravenel’s hulking presence on the post will be missed and will need to be replicated somehow, someway, if the Buckeyes want to have a chance in college basketball’s premier conference.
Overall, Ohio State has question marks on both sides of the ball, but there’s no reason to believe those questions won’t be answered strongly early on.
LaQuinton Ross is poised for a breakout season in relief of DeShaun Thomas.
Aaron Craft has increased his points per game average by two points every single year of his collegiate career and could definitely do so again.
Lenzelle Smith Jr., Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson should be improved with another year of experience under their belt, despite their already solid output.
The freshmen and Amadeo should make a significant impact on at least one side of the ball.
Amir Williams should have improved his footwork and is hopefully a much better defender this season.
Thad Matta is one of the best coaches in the entirety of college basketball.
All signs are pointing to a very successful season for the Buckeyes, but where can we expect them to end up?
Michigan State is the top dog in the Big Ten, but Ohio State did beat them in both of their meetings last season on their way to a Big Ten Championship. Michigan lost too much in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to find their way back in the National Championship hunt
Ultimately, the Buckeyes should finish the season second in the Big Ten and find themselves with a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Anything less than a chance for redemption in the Elite Eight would be considered a significant disappointment.
The Buckeyes start their season tomorrow afternoon at the Schott with a 12 pm tipoff against the Morgan State Bears.