B1G Basketball Preview: Ohio State
The Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off a 24-11 year which saw their season end early in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. With key players gone from Ohio State and a whole host of new freshman in to replace them, the expectations for the Buckeyes are fairly low this year. But the future is very bright in Columbus.
Key Returning Players
The word Ohio State and returning players are not two words that belong in the same sentence this year. Ohio State found many of their key contributors graduate and one leave for the NBA. But there are two probable starters to speak of that deserve some recognition.
The first is Jae’Sean Tate. Averaging 22 minutes last year, Tate put up about nine points per game with five boards to go with it. As a freshman, these numbers were serviceable and anything more than that was not really needed last year. But this year, the sophomore will find himself in a bigger role and having to contribute more, something his coaches and fellow players believe he can do.
The other is Marc Loving, who is going into his junior year. Loving, from his freshman to sophomore years, saw improvements across the board in field goal percentage, points and rebounds. As the veteran leader of the team, he will be relied upon to guide the cast of young players to adapt to the Thad Matta system.
Where to start with the Ohio State losses. It all starts with the loss of guard D’Angelo Russell, who was the primary scorer for the Buckeyes last season. With his move to the NBA, Coach Matta will be looking for one of these freshman to step up and fill the scoring and facilitating role left by Russell.
Ohio State also happens to be losing every single player that averaged over double figures last season. Not one of their returning players was able to do that. To graduation, Ohio State loses Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Trey McDonald and Amir Williams. With Thompson, you lose the athletic wing that could really excite a crowd, but consistency was an issue for him. Scott was a consistent contributor who could fill in at any moment when need be at point guard. McDonald and Williams provided height to match up with many of those bigger teams in college basketball.
On paper, none of these players are huge losses. The aspect really lost is the battle tested nature of those players. They were a part of a team that went to the Elite Eight, and that is experience that will have to be gained now by the incoming players without any guidance on how to compete or handle those situations.
To not talk about the Ohio State recruiting class would be to go without talking about the majority of the names for which you will hear about this year in Columbus. Led by guard JaQuan Lyle, this Ohio State recruiting class is seen as one of the best in the country and one of, if not the best, in the Big Ten. Lyle will serve as the replacement for Russell and will be the primary scorer on offense.
There is also point guard A.J. Harris, who brings toughness to the position that Matta like’s to see from his point guards. He’s not the biggest guy on the court, standing at only 5’9”, but was ranked in the ESPN Top 100. So his talent is clearly there.
Ohio State also adds a sharp-shooter in Austin Grandstaff, a point-forward in Mickey Mitchell, and a big man in Daniel Giddens. All of these players were highly ranked recruits as well, with Giddens seeming to be the best addition of those three. Giddens will add rebounding and defense to a team that is in desperate need of those things. This recruiting class will be fun for the foreseeable future.
Thanks in large part to D’Angelo Russell, the Ohio State offense was one of the best in the country last season, scoring 75.8 points per game and having the best field goal percentage in the Big Ten at .486 percent. Where they struggled on offense was shooting free throws as they shot .678 percent from the charity stripe, tied for 232nd in the country.
Also, very typical for Ohio State was the play of their defense, ranking in the top 30 for both steals per game (7.79) and blocks per game (5.09). The defense also allowed 62.8 points per game in a very competitive Big Ten.
The Buckeyes have several real tests in non-conference play this season, starting with Memphis at home. Memphis is competitive every year and this is a type of win that could at seasons end propel them into the tournament.
The next game is against No. 6 Virginia. This game should prove to be very competitive and the home crowd could propel Ohio State to a huge win. Although Virginia has the advantage, Ohio State’s athletic advantage will prove difficult for the Cavaliers.
The first real road test comes December 12th when they take on the UConn Huskies. Although not as talented as Virginia and Memphis, UConn always prove to be a formidable opponent no matter the year. Not to mention, with them being at home, UConn will be motivated to take this huge non-conference win.
Lastly, the biggest challenge comes December 19th as Columbus welcomes the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats to town. This game is most likely unwinnable for Ohio State baring some unforeseen circumstances, but if they could win this game, Ohio State would obviously been considered a possible top team at that point.
The Big Ten is a grueling stretch of endless games from start the finish. Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin are all currently ranked in the Top 25. Ohio State will compete in many of these games, but how many they win will be unknown.
Three games into the season, Ohio State plays Indiana and this is when the whole stretch starts. After that, the Buckeyes never have more than two games between ranked opponents. However, taking a few of those wins in a competitive Big Ten would do a lot for the national perception of Ohio State. But do not expect this young team to take more than a few of those games.
Coach’s Hot Seat
The seat is very cold for Thad Matta in Ohio State. Since arriving to Columbus in 2004, the Buckeyes have only missed the NCAA Tournament twice, as one of those times was for ineligibility. Matta instills defense into his guys, and it shows each and every year.
Expectations this year are not too high for Ohio State, which will allow Coach Matta to mold these young kids into the type of players and team he wants. Thad Matta in my eyes is one of the best coaches in the country and should help these young kids mold together well and setup a bright future for Ohio State basketball.
The expectations for Ohio State are not there this year and I can see why. They lost their best player and do not have a single player returning who averaged double figures the season before. Not to mention how difficult their schedule is from non-conference play to conference play.
But the constant of Thad Matta and a strong recruiting class as previously stated could have this team playing at a higher level than most people expect. A win here or there against Michigan State, Wisconsin, or one of those other teams would really help. And if they can grab one of the two games against Virginia and Kentucky, Ohio State would be legitimate.
I actually think that Ohio State will be much better than people expect. I have them sitting at 21-10 and actually grabbing three of the four games against the previously mentioned non-conference teams. The one I do not see them beating is Kentucky because they are just too good. They will not beat teams such as Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, or Wisconsin. But I think they will split many of the games against teams such as Rutgers and Illinois. I see them finishing anywhere from fifth to seventh in the Big Ten with a berth to the NCAA Tournament; with the potential to upset some more teams once there.
David Arroyo is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.