Thursday, November 6, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #2 Ohio State Buckeyes

In typical Thad Matta fashion the Buckeyes lose a ton from last year's team.  The three top scorers from last year are gone in LaQuinton Ross (15.2 ppg, also led the team in rebounding), Lenzelle Smith (11.0ppg, also led in 3-pointers), and annoying yet admittedly valuable Aaron Craft (9.8 ppg, also led in assists and steals).  I mean, that's a team that's been gutted.  Unfortunately, in true Thad Matta fashion, Ohio State is going to be loaded again anyway.  The #1 ranked recruiting class in the conference this year (#8 nationally) will join the #2 class last year (on a per player, basis) along with the probably top available transfer who is immediately eligible and the Buckeyes will keep rolling.  Great.

The one guy who could be fun to watch is Marc Loving, who is going to end up near the top of my B10 Chucker Power Ratings if I actually end up doing that which I plan on but I'm pretty lazy.  Loving, a 6-7 wing who ranked as the 62nd best recruit in 2013 averaged about 5 points per game last season in 11 minutes per game.  More importantly, he took 23% of the Buckeyes' shots when he was on the floor last season while shooting 37% from the floor including just 26% from three.  I don't want to get too excited here since there is so much other talent here that could end up screwing this up, but those numbers are fantastic indicators when it comes to Chucker potential, which we all know is the second most entertaining thing that can happen in basketball behind Circus Ball.  The departure of LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith, and Aaron Craft opens up 426 shots from lasts season.  I think Loving has real potential to reach 30% of the team's shots when he's on the court, a number reached only by Ross and Terran Petteway last season, though more efficiently.  This has a chance to be a truly special season.

Of course there are plenty of people who will try to get in the way of that and help the Buckeyes win games more efficiently.  There are the returning contributors:  center Amir Williams (8pts/6rebs/2blks per) who is kind of a stiff offensively but is a defensive force, wing Sam Thompson (8pts/3rebs) who is crazy athletic but is kind of Rodney Williams-ish in that he's still waiting to put all that talent together, and point guard Shannon Scott (8pts/3.5asts/2stls) who was overshadowed by Craft but might actually have been a better defensively.  It wouldn't surprise me if any of these guys ended up leading the Buckeyes in scoring since they all have the talent and the opportunity is there.  If I'm guessing I'd put Scott the most likely to break out and Williams the least, but nothing would surprise me.

Then there's the freshman:  Kameron Williams (#58 overall/#13 shooting guard in 2013), Jae'Sean Tate (#28/#8 small forward in '14), Keita Bates-Diop (#22/#6 small forward), and especially De'Angelo Russell (#13/#1 shooting guard).  I mean, I agree that's an annoying amount of punctuation in the middle of those names, but that is a damn talented group being added to an already talented group.  Russell could be a one and done type of talent, and with Diop and Loving both at 6-7 they'll have a ton of positional flexibility.  If the freshman come together quickly enough and the returnees are improved that's one hell of a top 8, and considering Thad Matta generally goes only six or seven deep this team is plenty talented.

Oh, right, and in case you forgot they also signed transfer Anthony Lee from Temple who will be immediately eligible thanks to that graduate transfer rule that is well intentioned but is really just taken advantage of as a loophole for players who outperform initial expectations to jump to better schools.  Lee is a 6-9 power forward who averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds for the Owls last season and was pretty much regarded as the top available transfer on the market this offseason after putting up eleven double-doubles last year.  So the Buckeyes second five will probably be Williams (#58 freshman - redshirt), Tate (#28 freshman), Diop (#22 freshman), Loving (sophomore, #62 last year), and Trey McDonald (senior center).  That's probably a top 5 Big 10 team right there.  These guys just don't stop.

Oh, and they already have three Top 100 guys signed for next season.  Good stuff.


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