Previewing the Ohio State Buckeyes
2013-14 Result: 25-10, 10-8 in Big Ten
NCAA Tournament: Round of 64 (60-59 loss to #11 Dayton)
Head Coaching Prospectus: Thad Matta (275-83 at Ohio State, six straight NCAA tournaments)
There are those programs that are blessed with good fortune when it comes to coaching, and there is Ohio State, which has Thad Matta. Last season was Matta’s tenth as the lead man at Ohio State, and a decade’s worth of results are all you need to know about the guy:
- 8 NCAA tournament appearances
- 5 Sweet 16’s
- 4 Big Ten championships
- 3 Elite Eight’s
- 2 Final Four’s
- 1 NCAA runner up
- 1 NIT championship
Entering his 11th season and a few years shy of 50, Matta is already an institution. It’s why Ohio State fans look at last season’s 25-10 fifth place Big Ten finish and early Round of 64 exit and consider it nothing short of disappointment. Such are the standards at Ohio State under Matta, where everything is peachy in perpetuum. The Buckeyes didn’t finish where they wanted to during the climax of the Aaron Craft era, as they struggled to score points all season long and cope with the departure of DeShaun Thomas during the 12-13 offseason.
Matta’s offenses are almost always efficient and high powered, but last year they were 190th in the country in points per game despite being 11th in points allowed per game. The Buckeyes were putrid offensively with Craft running the show sans top-tier scoring options; 150th in shooting efficiency; 222nd in made three’s a game; 124th in shooting percentage. The picture was painted pretty clearly, the Buckeyes couldn’t score with Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and Lenzelle Smith as the three caballeros.
The end result was an early exit against a surprise Dayton team that played them a little too tough defensively. Now Matta is asked to bring a group that loses some amazingly strong defenders to even greater heights. But can they do that? The question is a big one (and one Maryland is familiar with):
Can you recover from losing 51.8% of your total offense from the previous year and be better than before?
Key Returning Players
F Amir Williams (SR)
F Sam Thompson (SR)
G Shannon Scott (SR)
G Kam Williams (FR)
The first three players from this list comprise 33.1% of Ohio State’s total points scored, 37.5% of their total rebounds, and 70% of their blocks from last season. That’s a decent chunk of change to have left around for a team that some think could potentially fall on hard times, particularly when it comes to rim protection. Amir Williams remains one of the more underrated shot blockers in college hoops, and his presence alone gives Ohio State something to build around.
There’s also Shannon Scott, who should be very solid guard as a senior given extended minutes, and redshirt freshman Kam Williams, the second-best player in Maryland back in 2012. To add onto that, I expect Sam Thompson to roll back to his more efficient numbers given more minutes.
F Anthony Lee (SR via transfer)
G D’Angelo Russell (FR)
Ohio State hit the transfer lottery jackpot when Temple transfer Anthony Lee decided to head to Ohio State. Lee was one of the biggest “free agents” of the offseason after averaging 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds (an American Athletic Conference high) per game last season, and he should provide front court scoring immediately for the Buckeyes. That he pairs with Amir Williams in the front court like beer and buffalo wings makes Ohio State’s prospects look significantly brighter.
As for D’Angelo Russell, the McDonald’s All-American freshman and top thirty combo guard? We’ll have more on the huge impact he’ll play later, but rest assured he’s going make Buckeye fans forget about Craft quickly. Consider Russell, who typically sports a swoosh in his high top and knee high socks, the complete opposite of Aaron Craft. A more gifted passer, a better scorer, on par in thievery, and many orders of magnitude apart in outward swagger.
As stated before, I have a feeling the Ohio State front court is going to thump a lot of teams in a pretty convincing manner by way of Anthony Lee and Amir Williams. Lee managed to grit out 13.6 points per contest despite playing on a guard oriented team through hard work, and he’ll do it again this year while also being allowed to blossom on offense. In spurts he has been somewhat dominant (23 and 14 against Texas last year), but Lee is flat out consistent with 12 games of ten or more rebounds.
With Williams, Lee gets to play with A.) the first actual big man partner of his career and B.) someone who complements him well. Williams has the size necessary to help protect the paint and should be able to alleviate some pressure away from Lee in the lane. While Williams will have to worry about that foul rate this year (90 fouls to 60 blocks), on the glass he and Lee should give Ohio State an advantage in every game they play.
Depth is really the only issue keeping expectations tempered for this group, as outside of those two there isn’t a ton to get excited about. Keita Bates-Diop is a promising combo forward, but who knows when he’ll be ready. Marc Loving wasn’t particularly impressive last year as a whole and failed to contribute much. The two might be alright in spot duty, but asking them to play too many minutes might cause a big drop off.
Right off the bat, losing Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. hurts this team from a defensive standpoint, and those two won a lot of games during their time at Ohio State. But as lead backcourt guys, they were poor by Thad Matta standards. Neither could score very efficiently, and while defense was great, it became an issue of redundancy. But Ohio State appears poised this year to cede just a little defensively in favor of adding a ton to the offense.
Shannon Scott is a two-time member of the Big Ten All-Defensive team, and his per-40 minute numbers are almost mirror images of Aaron Craft’s. That bodes well for the team retaining the defensive intensity they had with Craft on the court.
Sam Thompson should be able to hold down the wing position nicely, as he is a world class athlete with great length and has shown (in spurts) that he’s capable of being a starter on a Matta-led team.
The shooting guard spot is up for grabs, too. Kam Williams should be ready to turn things on again after missing most of last season with mono, and by most accounts he’s thriving. But he won’t be asked to do a ton, as D’Angelo Russell is going to eventually take the reigns of that backcourt the second he gets the opportunity. Russell was a national champion at Montverde Academy, a McDonald’s All-American his senior season, and it doesn’t look like he’s done growing by a long shot. That backcourt is his, it’s just a matter of when.
2nd or 3rd place in the Big Ten.
Thad Matta has proven too many times what he’s capable of, and this team has tons of senior leadership, great balance, solid depth, and young talent that gives Ohio State a mix to make a solid run. I think the Buckeyes are in store for a big year, and it’s because this is a team from top to bottom.