2014-2015 ITH season preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

  • 09/30/2014 10:17 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Aaron Craft era in Columbus is over and his departure, along with the loss of Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross, means there is plenty of production that Thad Matta must replace to keep the Buckeyes in thick of the Big Ten race.

The Craft and Smith departures (both graduated) were much easier to plan for than the loss of Ross, who made the head-scratching decision to declare for the NBA draft and is now in Italy. The production vacated by the trio is substantial: 36 points, 14.6 rebounds and seven assists per game.

So who is ready to step up and fill the void? Matta returns three seniors with starting experience in Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and Amir Williams.

Scott, a former McDonald’s All-American, may be the Big Ten’s best returning perimeter defender (4.6 steal percentage), but is offensively challenged. He hit just 30.2 percent of his 3s as a junior and is turnover prone (22.2 TO%). Thompson is the team’s leading returning scorer and despite being one of the league’s best finishers, he hit just 49.7 percent of his 2s as a junior. And Williams, another former McDonald’s All-American, has been a disappointment so far in Columbus. As a junior, Williams averaged 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, but only averaged 23.1 minutes per game.

Beyond those three returnees, Matta has some other pieces to work with including sophomore Marc Loving, senior big man Trey McDonald and redshirt freshman Kameron Williams, a combo guard. Loving will need to shoot it better to see the floor regularly (25.9 percent on 3s as a freshman) and Williams is likely to earn a role as a backup guard in the rotation.

While those six players on their own aren’t enough to produce a bullish outlook for the Buckeyes, Matta brought in a five-man recruiting class that should contain a few immediate contributors. Temple transfer Anthony Lee could slide right into the frontcourt alongside Williams and provide both scoring and rebounding. After graduating in the spring, Lee was one of the most coveted graduate transfers on the market.

Ohio State also welcomes McDonald’s All-American guard D’Angelo Russell, a lefty with very good athleticism and an ability to score from both the perimeter and in transition. Two other 247Composite top 100 recruits, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, along with the 6-foot-10 David Bell, also arrive, but are likely to be brought along more slowly as Matta is known for playing a tight rotation.

Like Indiana and Michigan, Ohio State participated in an offseason foreign trip, but little was learned as the Buckeyes crushed two overmatched opponents in the Bahamas.

Bottom Line: Ohio State is being picked by some as a preseason top 20 team. It’s a team that is going to win with its defense. Craft was a big part of leading that effort and his departure means that Scott is going to be tasked with running the team on both ends of the floor. Losing Ross leaves the Buckeyes without a go-to scorer and Russell, a freshman, appears most likely to fill that role. Like many of the teams we’ve covered so far in our preview series, Ohio State has a lot of questions that need to be answered in order to realize its upside.

Quotable: “I think we’ve got great guys. How do you replace Aaron Craft? Well, you don’t. But we’ve got to improvise in terms of this guy can do this, this guy can do this, but I’m every excited in moving forward and bringing these guys together.” – Matta to Cleveland.com.

Previously: Rutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State

Photo credit: Getty Images

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  • Alford Bailey

    As with MSU the faces change in Columbus but Matta and co.will still have continued success. They will be plenty good, challenge for a B1G title, challenge for a B1G tourney title again and make a sweet sixteen. Ugh! Again, respect for a coach and program with consistency built in.

  • Gregory Spera

    Can’t stand Matta. My least favorite personality in the B1G. But five conference titles in ten years at OSU?!? Ugh, is right.

  • ForeverIU

    I can’t wait for us to rain threes on Anthony Lee.

  • OhioHoosier

    Reports from Columbus are that Kam Williams has been impressive, Russell is as advertised, Diop has skill but needs to gain strength, and Lee has not been overwhelming thus far. McDonald played well in the Bahammas and I would expect to definitely see a 4.5 man committee at the four/five this season between Williams, Lee, McDonald, Loving, and Slam on smaller lineups. Dave Bell apparently is further along than expected, but the expectation was not overly high for this season. As usual, the Buckeyes will need to figure out how to put the ball in the hoop and specifically how to hit some threes. I think a smaller lineup consisting of Scott, Williams, Russell, Thompson, and Williams/Lee/McDonald is the best option, but we will have to see what Thad has planned.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Matta out-recruited everyone who pursued Lee. We also offered Russell (whom I personally feel is over-rated)…
    If our crew hits 40% of its 3’s, I’m more concerned about which team rebounds the 60% which don’t find the bottom of the net and keeps turnovers in the 8-10
    /game range.

  • calbert40

    To continue another thread’s discussion about most talented teams in the B1G, I think OSU is the MOST talented. But I don’t think they will win the conference, and I think they will feel the loss of Craft a TON.

    Most of us hated Craft, but we hated him because he didn’t play for IU. I have always thought that was one of the biggest compliments an opposing fan could give a player. He got by with murder, but that wasn’t his fault. I don’t know how many wins his presence on the roster was, but I guarantee that they will lose some close games this year, because they don’t have him this year.

  • Alford Bailey

    Yea, I constantly wanted to discount Craft because his offense looked so horrible most of the time. But, he found a way to get it done.

  • Alford Bailey

    Funny, I remember thinking during the Jim Jackson years(early 90s) eh, this is just short term success, IU won’t have to deal with the Bucks in basketball much longer. Boy, was I wrong.

  • Alford Bailey

    Can’t really blame Lee or any of the other kids that have snubbed us for OSU. World class athletic program in Columbus and hard to argue with Matta’s success at a football school. Must admit a Blackmon 3 to beat the Bucks in the B1G tourney championship and for a number 1 seed in the dance is a favorite dream of mine.

  • Kyl470

    Craft was their version of Tom Coverdale. I’m not saying the two had a similar style of play because they didn’t. But Coverdale wasn’t quick, didn’t look the part and every lay up he took seemed to end with him falling to the floor, but in the end he got the job done. Same with Craft. His shot looked awful, he didn’t shoot a great percentage, played great defense (it’s not his fault the refs don’t call fouls on him) and in the end got the job done most games.

  • ForeverIU

    Hanner will put up better numbers than Anthony Lee. You heard it here first!

  • Alford Bailey

    I may be wrong but I never felt Lee or any other transfers we missed on this off season were big losses.

  • SCHoosier

    Craft spent so much time with the ball in his control..that it HAS to take some time for the Bucks to adjust to a new offense. Frankly..if more people get involved…they may be better off. Russell is a scoring talent..not sure about on floor leadership.

  • Alford Bailey

    Well, that is my fear, with Craft gone the real talent on that roster gets a chance to blossom.

  • AnonymousDave

    I’ve read hundreds of your comments on this site and almost always agree with what you have to say, but I disagree with this one. I think losing Craft was an improvement. Not to say I don’t think he is a great player, but watching him and Scott on the floor together was downright ugly. Scott is just as good defensively, if not better, and I think a lot of his offensive problems came from him having an inconsistent role on the team. If it weren’t for Blackmon, Russel would be the best pure scorer I’ve seen come into the BIG in a good few yrs and he is tremendously underrated on defense. Unlike Blackmon however he is on a team full of upperclassmen who can take him under their wing and help guide his development.

    Honestly they’re the team I’m scared of most in the BIG as far as match ups are concerned. I still think Wisconsin is the best team, but I can see these guys having a Florida (last yr) type season. A bunch of unheralded upperclassmen coming together for a great season. If they play big (which I don’t see why they wouldn’t) then they’re gonna be a real problem for a lot of teams who have started going towards the “stretch” four kind of style. They’re in great position defensively and can mix things up. They have the length and athleticism on the wings and post players to play a great zone.

    You say they will miss craft in crunch time, I say they will have a lot less crunch time and have larger margins of victory. Solid O + solid D + rebounding + experience + talent + good coach = lots of wins

  • Snookafly

    More talented than Wisky? Considering much of what they have is unproven, I’m not so sure.

  • calbert40

    Thanks for the compliment, Dave…even if you are wrong about this comment! 🙂

    Look, I couldn’t stand Craft, and I think the refs gave him the Jordan treatment, and he couldn’t hit water off of a cruise ship shooting. But his leadership skills, ball handling and defense made him a winner. If he played for IU these last four years, we would have been wanting to hang his number from the rafters. He is an “Indiana” player: hardwork, hustle, doing the little things type player that we typically love.

    I’m a big baseball fan, and if you follow baseball’s SABRmetric stats, you will know what WAR is: Wins Above Replacement. The simplified idea is that the last player on your roster is worth 0.0 WAR, so what is everyone else worth? In baseball, they take everything into account: defense, offense, baserunning, etc. If we did that for Craft, I’m guessing he’d have one of the highest WARs in the B1G over the past four years.

    And I agree with you on Russell. I think he is a star, and of all the 5 star players we recruited but did not get, he is the one I’d take over all the rest. We are going to learn to really dislike him.

  • calbert40

    I think Wisky is better, but I think OSU has more talented players. Talent can be unproven. Russell has the potential to be great, but he may be mediocre. We see it happen all the time with highly touted recruits. However, that doesn’t diminish his potential.

  • Snookafly

    I understand what you’re saying about individual potential, and maybe down the road their players will one day do great things. I just think that if you put the rosters side by side, I’d take who Wisconsin has over OSU any day regardless of coach or system. If we’re talking skill level in “real time” I don’t know of a more effective way of defining talent.

  • AnonymousDave

    I agree that Craft was a great all around player who hustled non stop. I’m just saying him and Scott together, the whole makeup of that team for that matter, was just really rough and ugly basketball. It (Craft and Scott) was like the defensive version of the Denver Nuggets a few years back when they tried to pair Carmello Anthony with Allen Iverson. They’re better of separate. Just too similar. Would they be better off if that departure had been Scott and not Craft? Probably but Scott is still an excellent player who does a lot of the same things Craft does, in some respects he does them better.

    SImply put I think the additions of Russell and Lee (plus the other two top 100 freshmen and redshirt freshmen) are infinitely greater than the loses of Smith Jr and Ross. The loss of Craft will allow Scott to play more naturally and comfortably, and should allow the entirety of the Ohio St offense to run much more smoothly. I also think the collective efforts of Scott, Thompson, and Lee can at least somewhat makeup for the leadership void left behind by Craft. All in All I expect Ohio ST to have a much better season than last year (yea I’m aware they had a good year last year) IF the pieces come together smoothly, especially in a “down” year for the BIG.

  • AnonymousDave

    Coverdale attempted lay ups? Perhaps it was because I was a youngin’ then, but I seem to remember gettin’ mad at Tommy boy cause he’d stop and pop a brick from behind the arc every time we got on the break.

  • HoosierGrampy

    I would have liked to see Theo Pinson and/or Isaiah Whitehead in stripes more than Russell.

  • Mr_Howard8h

    Lee didn’t want to come here and be the only big man. He was sold on the fact that he could be the 4 to Amir Williams’ 5, if you will.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Maybe Matta will run out of Miracle Gro this year or perhaps the blossoms won’t occur until after January 25th.

  • FinEndNow

    I still have Ohio State winning the B1G. Lot of talent and athleticism with some experience. They have great defensive PG in Shannon Scott. They have a big time scorer in DeAngelo Russell. Sam Thompson is a high flyer. We all know how good Anthony Lee is. Williams will also be a Senior along with Scott, Thompson and Lee. Also bring back Trey McDonald who is a Senior. And some good wing talent in Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop. They’ll be better off without Craft IMO.

  • Brian Goodman

    Disagreed. I see them having a similar season to us last year. Not much scoring, and not to mention the most overrated player in the B1G in Sam Thompson.

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    Lee didn’t want to play center. Lee would’ve played center for IU. I think it’s as simple as that.

  • CreanFaithful

    It’s for the best. His strength is not shooting. And CTC would not have brought him on for 1 year in order for him to fulfill that dream…

  • calbert40

    I stand corrected. I’d rather have had Pinson also. I’d still put Russell ahead of Whitehead, though.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Around 3/18/2014, Jeff Goodman @ ESPN wrote that Lee was getting “serious interest” from Iowa State, Illinois, Marquette, Indiana, Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, USC, Miami, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State. I bet all those other schools except the Suckeyes also recruited him to play center. That would have really made his choice simple. If an opponent can keep him off the boards and out of the paint (where he shot 60% last year, 1 of 3 from 3-pt land and 25% from mid-range) his game sucks. I’d rather have Emmitt Holt in stripes.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Perhaps he saw the IU roster at that time w/5 Guards, 8 Forwards and 1 Center and decided to take his game elsewhere. For whatever reason, I think it worked out really better for us–we got Emmitt Holt and he’s got a much better up-side than Lee, imo.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Russell was really good in HS…but it’s not an automatic given that he’ll be equally good in college. Thompson will probably get his points on “Highlight put-backs/jams” but he’s a liability in the mid-range game…same as Lee. No idea how their other Freshman will perform and the Williams/McDonald combo are far from spectacular players. I’d put money on WI winning the B1G season and tourney. Thad Matta will probably have a really solid team ready for the NCAA’s as usual.

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    With Luke Fischer on Marquette’s roster, I bet they were recruiting Lee as a 4.

    I may have qualms with Crean about the offense or subbing patterns, but I don’t believe that anybody outrecruits him.

  • HoosierGrampy

    I really don’t know what he was or wasn’t told by any of the other schools. For what it’s worth, I was not all that excited by what he showed in his limited time here.
    Share your concerns about TC’s offense, substitution patterns (and game plans/in-game adjustments).

    Each of the following players had offers on the table, most had made un-official or official visits to campus, and at one time each had indicated his solid interest in IU. If you don’t believe that anybody out-recruits him, how would you explain the facts that none of these young men will be wearing stripes this year: Theo Pinson-UNC, Devin Robinson-Florida, Chris McCullough-Syracuse, Raymond Spaulding-Louisville, Goodluck Okonoboh-UNLV, Brandone Francis-Florida, LeRon Black-Illinois, Ahmed Hill-VaTech, Michael Humphrey-Stanford, or Lourawls Nairn-MSU?

  • fourputtsforsnowman

    Do you think that same thought applies to IU with yogi? I’m thinking that is the key item to watch this year for IU…team play.