Ohio State Preview

As much uncertainty as there is in the Big Ten this year (anytime Michigan State is not near or at the top of the preseason standings, things feel uneasy), there seems to be a strange consensus to put Ohio State second. I suspect that’s largely because a quick look at the roster reveals a lot of 4 and 5-star talents, and hey, those guys tend to work out. Frankly, that’s not such a bad way to approach this. Sure, Buckeyes second, let’s wrap this up.

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But if you wanted to read about what to expect from Ohio State, I’ll ramble some more. First, I think you have to start setting a baseline for Thad Matta. The guy just doesn’t lose all that much. Last year, the team won 25 games and it’s legitimately the worst season for Ohio State in 5 years. In his 14 year head coaching career, he’s only had a worse winning percentage three times. He’s never won fewer than 20 games, and since his first season at Ohio State, he’s never gone worse than 10-8 in the Big Ten.

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So with Thad Matta, you really have to start the process by asking whether there are good enough reasons to expect an aberration. Is the rest of the Big Ten that much better, and/or are the Buckeyes that much worse? And I can’t come up with enough good reasons to satisfy either of those conditions.

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That isn’t to say that Ohio State is loaded this year. The only team that loses more conference minutes from last season is Michigan, and it’s a razor-thin margin. The offense is a question mark after LaQuinton Ross left school early. The defense will have a new identity as well after Aaron Craft’s graduation. But just look at all this talent:

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Player

RSCI Ranking

D’Angelo Russell

16

Keita Bates-Diop

29

Shannon Scott

32

Sam Thompson

46

Amir Williams

50

Jae’Sean Tate

54

Marc Loving

66

Kam Williams

76

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Add to that Temple transfer Anthony Lee (106.9 ORtg, 23.0 usage), and you have a pretty great collection of on-paper talent to work with.

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Scott, Thompson, Williams, Loving, and Lee are mostly known commodities. Scott is pretty much a clone of Aaron Craft on offense and defense, with similar strengths (generating turnovers) and weaknesses (generating turnovers). It really is uncanny, down to the fact that both players had the exact same three-point percentage last season (30.2).

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Thompson is a very useful utility player that can make shots from the perimeter and jump out of the gym, but he’s a limited ballhandler that struggles to create off the bounce. That in turn restricts him to a role player. Williams can be a defensive beast but fouls too much and he’s sloppy with the ball on offense. So I guess that makes him the defensive version of Mo Walker, who is the offensive version of AJ Hammons, who is the patron saint of Big Man With Unfulfilled Potential. The addition of Lee will push Williams, though he mostly serves as an alternative to the outmatched Trey McDonald, whose hobbies include fouling and missing free throws.

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Loving has obvious upside—as a freshman, he displayed a ton of confidence in his outside shot (half of his shots came from distance) even though he only shot them at 26 percent accuracy. His attempt rate, combined with his solid 77 free throw percentage, indicates we should expect big gains in his outside shooting this year. He’s one of the more obvious breakout candidates in the country.

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As for the freshmen, Russell is a popular pick for conference Freshman of the Year, but he’s not mine. In his final AAU season, Russell averaged just under 14 points a game shooting 48 percent from 2 and 28 percent from 3. He also excelled at the free throw line (81 percent), and displayed above-average ballhandling (3.5 assists per game) while rebounding (5.2 per game). Those are solid numbers all around, and they speak to a very diverse skillset. But it’s not quite dominant. I expect Russell to be effective and an instant starter, but I like another freshman (or two, even) more.

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Keita Bates-Diop (or KBD) is a stretch four from central Illinois. He figures to see a lot of action early. Jae’Sean Tate will be interesting, because everything I read about him suggests that he’s a 6-5 power forward. Usually that combination does not result in a top-100 ranking. But these unusual players are the most fun to watch.

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Kam Williams is a sophomore that sat out last season with mononucleosis...this, this is my guy. In AAU play, Williams led his team in scoring with 20.6 points per game. He made 50 percent of his 3s (40.2 3PA percentage), and 85 percent of his free throws. He was a mediocre distributor, but hey, if I were his coach I wouldn’t let him pass, either. The only reason I won’t pick Williams as my Freshman of the Year is because Ohio State has a lot of mouths to feed. On a per possession basis, however, he’s going to be as good as anyone.

All in all, this is a very talent-rich roster. Sure, there are bound to be a couple duds in this group, at least for this season. But a lot would have to go wrong for these Buckeyes to fall below the Thad Matta baseline. Don’t count on it.