2013-14 College Basketball Season Preview: Ohio State

Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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Ohio State Buckeyes (Last Year: 29-8, 13-5 in Big Ten)

2013-14 Projected Depth Chart:

C: Amir Williams (Jr)/Trey McDonald (Jr)

F: LaQuinton Ross (Jr)/Marc Loving (Fr)

SF: Sam Thompson (Jr)

SG: Lenzelle Smith (Sr)/Amedeo Della Valle (Soph)/Kameron Williams (Fr)

PG: Aaron Craft (Sr)/Shannon Scott (Jr)

Gone: F-DeShaun Thomas, C-Evan Ravenel

2013-14 Outlook:
With four-straight 29-plus-win seasons that have all resulted in trips to the Sweet 16, Thad Matta has cemented the Ohio State Buckeyes as one of the elite programs in the country. Ohio State returns four starters, but must replace 20-point-per-game scorer DeShaun Thomas if the school hopes to extend that streak.

There isn’t one guy who can do that, so Matta needs his senior backcourt of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith to each up their play on the offensive end. Craft has been one of the best defensive point guards in the country the past three seasons, but he is more of a floor general offensively as opposed to someone who can naturally fill it up. Still, his leadership is essential to the Buckeyes’ success.

“We haven’t had the luxury of a lot of guys sticking around for four years at Ohio State,” Matta said when I asked him about Craft at the Big Ten Media Day. “You’ve got a guy that has won 94 games in three years. It’s an honor to coach Aaron Craft every day, and you know he cares about doing things the right way. He wants nothing more than Ohio State to win, and that’s what you cherish as a coach.”

As for Smith, he has shown flashes of being a capable scorer, but tends to go through stretches where he disappears on the offensive end. That cannot happen this season for the Buckeyes to reach their potential. Shannon Scott will see a heavy amount of minutes off the bench once again, as he is a change-of-pace option from Craft, who relies on his speed and play-making to create for his teammates. Scott and Craft should see a good amount of time on the floor together like they did a year ago, with Craft playing off the ball. Amedeo de Villa and Kameron Williams will only see spot minutes when Matta needs to go deeper on his bench.

Ohio State also returns the crazy athletic Sam Thompson, who took a step in the right direction during his sophomore campaign. He is explosive at the rim but has also improved his outside shooting and should be a valuable glue guy for the Buckeyes.

In my opinion, the most important player on the roster is combo forward LaQuinton Ross, who replaces Thomas in the starting lineup. The 6-8 junior was an offensive threat off the bench last season and had his best stretch of basketball during the NCAA Tournament. With an expanded role, Ross should lead the Buckeyes in scoring this season since he is a versatile offensive weapon.

“LaQuinton’s never started a game at Ohio State and a lot is being thrust on him,” Matta admitted. “I want him to just relax and play basketball, get in the flow of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and let things develop. We’re going to need him to do some big things but it’s that consistency.”

Marc Loving is another skilled combo forward who brings an all-around talent to the floor and should see minutes playing behind both Thompson and Ross at forward.

The area that really needs to improve for Ohio State this season is the production of the team’s big men, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald. Neither guy has developed as quickly in terms of providing a true low post scoring option with their only real contributions coming on the glass or protecting the rim.

“Having the ability to impact the game both offensively and defensively around the rim,” is what Matta would like to see from Williams and McDonald this season. “That’s something that we’ve talked about with those guys in really, really saying this is what I need to do every possession. That’s huge.”

Thad Matta has this Ohio State Buckeyes program near the top of the college basketball mountain in recent years. In fact, only Duke and Kansas have won more games the past four seasons than the Buckeyes. This year’s team will rely on offensive balance and Ohio State’s typical stout defense to contend for a Big Ten title and remain hopeful of making another deep run in March.

Player to Watch: LaQuinton Ross, F
When I spoke with Matta at the Big Ten Media Day, the word “consistency” came up a few times in talking about Ross. I think he’s bound for a breakout year and could be a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Here is what Matta added about Ross: “Embracing all the detail things that go along with playing basketball. Q has done a great job with that thus far. He needs to know the impact he can make offensively and defensively. Those are the things we are looking for from LaQuinton; just give me consistent play.”

Key Non-Conference Games:
  • 11/16 at Marquette
  • 12/4 vs. Maryland (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
  • 12/21 vs. Notre Dame (in Madison Square Garden)

  • Predicted Big Ten Finish: 2nd

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