With Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. having exhausted their four years of eligibility, while Amedeo Della Valle and LaQuinton Ross are leaving early to pursue professional careers overseas, let’s take an early look at Thad Matta’s 2014-15 edition of Ohio State’s men’s basketball team.
In essence, next season will featured three returning starters with a trio of seniors that includes point guard Shannon Scott, small forward Sam Thompson, and center Amir Williams. Experienced reserves include senior center Trey McDonald and sophomore forward Marc Loving. One other scholarship player is shooting guard Kam Williams, who redshirted last season. Also recently added to the mix will be forward/center Anthony Lee, a fifth-year senior transfer who will be available immediately after he graduates from Temple in May.
The 2014 recruiting class consists of four with combo guard D’Angelo Russell, a native of Louisville, Ky., who attended Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla.; small forward Jae’Sean Tate from Pickerington Central High School in Pickerington, Ohio; wing Keita Bates-Diop from University High School in Normal, Ill., and center David Bell from Garfield Heights High School in Garfield Heights, Ohio.
Let’s take a look at the projected starting five:
PG, Shannon Scott, 6-1, 185, Sr.
As a freshman, Scott saw action in 36 of the 39 games during the 2011-12 season and averaged 1.2 points and 1.7 assists in 10.6 minutes per game. During his sophomore season, Scott doubled his playing time seeing action in all 37 contests and averaged 4.9 points and 3.8 assists in 20.9 minutes per outing.
This past season, Scott played in all 35 games, starting the first 21, and averaged 7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 steals per contest. He scored in double figures nine times and his best game all year was an 18-point performance against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament where he went 7-of-10 from the field and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.
One thing Scott has to do next season is too cut down on the mistakes, both physical and mental. He was second on the team in turnovers, and his foul on a three-point attempt with 27 seconds left in the Dayton game was just plain stupid. That helped the Flyers escape with a second round NCAA tourney win to oust the Buckeyes.
SG, D’Angelo Russell, 6-4, 180, Fr.
As one of the top overall high school players in the nation, Russell received a five-star rating from both Scout.com and Rivals.com, and is one of the top shooting guard prospects in the country.
Last summer prior to his senior year of high school, Russell played in both the 2013 NIKE Global Challenge and the 2013 adidas Nations.
Playing for USA South squad in the NIKE Global Challenge, Russell averaged 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 54.4 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from beyond the arc in 28.5 minutes of action.
In the addidas Nations, Russell averaged 13.6 points on 43.1 percent shooting from the floor and 31.3 percent from three-point range with 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 25.8 minutes to lead the United States 2014 Blue team to the gold medal.
Russell, a 2014 McDonald’s All-American, will start at the two-guard and will also see playing time at point guard. He’s also nearly a lock to be the Big Ten’s freshman of the year.
SF Sam Thompson, 6-7, 200, Sr.
After starting in all 37 games as a sophomore, Thompson began 2013-14 season as a reserve as head coach Thad Matta went with a three-guard set using Craft, Smith Jr., and Scott. But following Ohio State’s 71-70 overtime loss to Penn State on Jan. 29, Thompson returned to the starting lineup replacing Scott for the final 14 contests.
Thompson, though, is yet another key Buckeye player who didn’t post better numbers this past season as he did a year ago.
As a sophomore, Thompson averaged 7.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 25.1 minutes of action while shooting 49.8 percent (106-213) from the field and 40.4 percent (23-57) from beyond the arc. But as a junior, Thompson connected on 45.0 percent (103-229) and 35.5 percent from three-point range and averaged 7.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 24.7 minutes.
Throughout the course of this past season, Thompson has played well at times, but then he disappears for long stretches and goes MIA. Thompson scored in double figures for the first three games of the campaign that included a 13-point, eight rebound performance against Marquette. But then he only notched double digits in eight out of the final 32 games that included a stretch of eight contests from Jan. 20-Feb. 15 where he averaged just 5.0 points per game.
Of course there were a few games when Thompson was a scoring machine. He scored a season-high 19 against Minnesota at Value City Arena, chipped in 18 in the OT loss to Michigan State in East Lansing, and Thompson had another 18 in the loss to Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
PF Anthony Lee, 6-9, 230, Sr.
With LaQuinton Ross leaving a year early to play professionally overseas, Temple transfer Anthony Lee steps in to take his place in the starting lineup. While Lee is an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Ross, the two are totally different players. Lee is more of a low-post threat who takes most of his shots from within 10-15 feet as he’s only attempted five three-pointers in his three seasons of college basketball.
While Lee will likely start at the 4 (PF), he is capable of and will play a good amount at the 5 (C). A very possible scenario is that Matta substitutes Marc Loving or Keita Bates-Diop for Amir Williams with Lee moving to down low.
As a junior for the Owls, Lee played in 28 of the 31 games this past season, starting 27, and averaged 13.6 points with an American Athletic Conference-leading 8.6 rebounds in 31.1 minutes of action while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and 65.5 percent from the free throw line. Lee was also a double-double machine, registering 11. His best game of the season was in Temple’s 81-80 overtime loss to Texas where Lee scored 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the floor with 14 rebounds.
In his sophomore season for Temple, Lee played in 32 games and started 29, averaging 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 53.7 percent from the field. He scored in double figures 19 times with a career-high 21 points and nine rebounds in a win over No. 3 Syracuse. Lee also pulled down double figure rebounds six times with a season-high 13 against Richmond and Rice.
After sitting out his first season on the Temple campus due to a back injury, Lee averaged 5.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game as a redshirt freshman in 2011-12.
During his senior year at West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Fla., Lee averaged 23.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks while earning 2010 National Athletic Christian Association All-America honors. As a junior, Lee averaged 14.8 points and 13.8 rebounds in 2008-09 at Eustis High School before transferring to West Oaks.
Coming out of high school, Lee was a three-star prospect by both Rivals.com and Scout.com, and was ranked the No. 23 center for the class of 2010 just behind Minnesota’s Elliott Eliason (No. 22) and several spots ahead of Purdue’s Travis Carroll (No. 26).
C Amir Williams, 6-11, 250, Sr.
This past season, Amir Williams became everyone’s favorite punching bag. He is, without a doubt, and enigma. Williams is a former McDonald’s All-American who has been consistently inconsistent during his three seasons at Ohio State.
During Big Ten play this past season, Williams’ best game was the overtime loss to Michigan State when he scored eight points with 12 rebounds in 35 minutes of action.
But only twice did Williams see more than 30 minutes of court time during the conference slate. The second instance came at Illinois when Williams posted seven points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes against the Illini.
Since Dec. 31, a total of 22 games, Williams scored in double figures just four times. Though he only averaged 23.5 minutes per game, there were many times when Williams was ineffective or in foul trouble and spent most of the game on the bench as Matta opted to play small-ball.
Against Purdue in West Lafayette, Williams had just six points and three rebounds in 14 minutes. In Lincoln versus Nebraska, he played 13 minutes and had four points and three rebounds. At Penn State, Williams logged just 12 minutes and totaled two points and zero rebounds. Against Dayton, he posted zero points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.
The thing is, most of the time Williams looked like he’s just going through the motions, playing without any intensity. There were times against Dayton that he would set a screen here, then set a screen there, but he didn’t seem engaged. He didn’t try to get open, and Williams acted like he didn’t want the ball at all.
Williams is going to have to improve his skill set in the offseason, or he might see his playing time dwindle in favor of Lee.
Now let’s look at the key reserves:
F Marc Loving, 6-7, 215, Sr.
As a true freshman, Loving played in all 35 games and averaged 4.4 points and 1.7 rebounds in 10.8 minutes. Loving shot just 36.8 percent (43-117) from the field and 25.9 percent (15-58) from three-point range.
Loving, from St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, was a four-star recruit, ranked as the 63rd-best overall prospect and the 11th-best power forward in the nation.
F Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, 190, Fr.
Bates-Diop, a 6-foot-7, 190-pound forward from University High School in Normal, Ill., was rated a five-star recruit by both Rivals.com and Scout.com. Rivals ranks him the 20th-best player in the nation for the class of 2014, while Scout lists him as the sixth-best power forward in the country.
Along with Ohio State, Bates-Diop also had offers from DePaul, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas State, Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue.
As a senior, Bates-Diop was a first-team selection on the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class 3A-4A all-state team and a first-team Associated Press all-state member for the third year in a row. As a junior, Bates-Diop averaged 18.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in guiding the U-High Pioneers to a second-straight undefeated league record in the Corn Belt Conference.
Bates-Diop will see significant playing time at either the 3 or 4, and depending on the development of Loving, he might even get more minutes and be the first forward/wing off the bench.
G Kam Williams, 6-2, 175, So.
Williams, a 6-foot-2 senior shooting guard from Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore, Md., was a four-star recruit and was ranked 83rd in the nation among all players for the class of 2013 and the 23rd-best shooting guard in the country according to Rivals.com.
Williams, though, didn’t get the opportunity to play this past season after suffering from mononucleosis during the preseason and missed a month of practice. He adds another deep threat to Ohio State’s offense.
Williams will be the first guard off the bench and will play at the two. If he replaces Scott, then Russell will slide over to point guard.
F Jae’Sean Tate, 6-5, 205, Fr.
Tate, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound forward from Pickerington (Ohio) Central High School, is rated a four-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout. According to Rivals, Tate is the 69th-best overall player in the nation, while Scout tabs him as the 15th-best small forward in the country.
Tate also had offers from Dayton, Iowa, Michigan, Purdue, and Xavier. He’s been compared to former Buckeye David Lighty.
C Trey McDonald, 6-8, 240, Sr.
McDonald saw action in all 35 games this past season and averaged 2.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in a limited role as a junior. While he provided some energy off the bench, McDonald is very limited offensively was a rountied abused by bigger players in the post.
He’ll likely see less playing time next season.
C Dave Bell, 6-10, 210, Fr.
Bell, a 6-foot-10, 210-pound center from Garfield Heights High School in Garfield Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, is rated a three-star prospect by Rivals.com. According to Scout.com, Bell is 20th-best center for the class of 2014 and also receives a three-star rating.
Bell is a project and will likely be redshirted next season.
Thad Matta has a lot of options at his disposal entering next season and can go 10-deep with better shooting from the outside, but a lot of question marks still remain. If all goes as planned and all the pieces fall into place, I can see the Buckeyes contending for a Big Ten title and a deeper run in the NCAA tournament.