Ohio State Basketball Looking to Rebound from a Down 2015-16
October 31, 2016
As the warm summer air begins to turn to a fall chill and the calendar flips to November, most sports fans in Columbus are busy discussing the most recent victory on the gridiron or the impact on the College Football Playoff. However, deep in the recesses of the Jerome Schottenstein Center, a faint sound of shoes squeaking on the gym floor and the zip of another ball passing through the net can be heard. Suddenly a whistle sounds and Coach Thad Matta’s basketball Buckeyes come to attention, listening to the coach bark out information and direction, preparing his players for another season on the hardwood.
We now enter ‘game’ week for the Buckeyes as they prepare to host Walsh University in their annual exhibition matchup Sunday before opening officially a week from Friday in Annapolis, Maryland against Navy. The Buckeyes come in with higher expectations this season as they return all five starters from a 21 win team a year ago and disappointing finish, losing in the NIT second round. Thad Matta serves last year as a constant reminder to his players that at Ohio State, last year’s performance was unacceptable. Gone are 4 of the 5 members of last year’s recruiting class who Coach Matta famously referred to as ‘problems’, but back are a core group of players who gained a year of experience and much needed growth as a basketball team. Over the summer Coach Matta addressed his coaching style as well, saying “I’m going to coaching basketball. I’m going back to running this program the way we did when we got here.” The first step in that development was adding former Buckeye player and former Buckeye assistant, Chris Jent, who will bring a level of toughness to the program that it has been lacking the last couple of seasons.
Returning from injury but appearing to be very healthy is the heartbeat of the team, in forward, Jae’Sean Tate. Tate will bring the hustle and grit this team needs in the paint as well as leadership on the floor by setting an example to the younger guys with his style of play. The lone senior on the team, Marc Loving has improved every year, and is looking to increase that arc in his last season in Columbus and will be counted on to carry some of the scoring load and improve on the defensive end of the floor. On the wing, sharp shooter Keita Bates-Diop will be counted on to stretch the defense from beyond the arc as well as provide the length defensively on the perimeter that every good team has in its arsenal. Bates-Diop was playing very well towards the end of last season, when a case of mononucleosis sidelined him in the Big Ten tournament and on into the NIT. Running the point may be the best NBA prospect of the bunch in JaQuan Lyle. Lyle was asked to do a lot last year as a true freshman, but the inconsistencies and immaturities of a young player sometimes took the forefront. The Buckeyes will need Lyle to become the true floor general that Matta’s teams have generally had throughout his coaching tenure. Manning the center position will once again be Trevor Thompson, who at times showed flashes of brilliance in his big 6’10” frame and his ability to run the floor, but inconsistency and lack of discipline on defense led to some silly fouls and his inability to actually stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. The Buckeyes will need Thompson to spend more minutes in the game and less on the bench for them to reach their ultimate ceiling. Also returning is big man, Dave Bell, who despite his sleight of frame, provided some needed and valuable minutes off the bench and will be counted on for the same role this season, but most likely will find significant minutes hard to come by.
Four newcomers were added to the roster this season as well, and at least a couple will be looked at to supply significant minutes off the bench. C.J. Jackson, a juco transfer will provide a spark at the point guard position to not only spell Lyle, but allow JaQuan to move to the 2 and come off screens to utilize his scoring ability as well. Jackson also provides an ability to shoot the basketball from long range which will stretch the defense and open up some things on the inside. A pair of big men join the roster this season as well and some potentially key minutes could be necessary for both. Derek Funderburk, a 6'9" forward from Lakewood, Ohio via Hargrave Military Academy could provide valuable minutes in the post. Micah Potter from Mentor Ohio, also from a prep school, Montverde Academy in Florida, the same school as former Buckeye D’Angelo Russell, has the ability to stretch the floor in his 6’9” 240 pound frame, which should create some matchup problems for many Buckeye opponents. The Buckeyes also added Andre Wesson, whose brother is a 2017 commit and father was a Buckeye under Eldon Miller in the early 1980’s may not be counted on for significant minutes, but is a natural defender on the perimeter, utilizing a long wingspan at 6’6”. As a late commit to Matta’s Buckeyes, Wesson could be the surprise of the class.
The schedule this year in the Big Ten will be as brutal as ever as 5 conference teams appear in the preseason AP poll, with Wisconsin pacing the way at number 9. The Buckeyes also have #8 Virginia on the docket in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Charlottesville in late November along with back to back games with #18 UConn in Columbus and #16 UCLA in Las Vegas in early December so they will be tested early. However, despite the challenging schedule, there is plenty of optimism coming out of Buckeye practice that should have fans excited. This season, youth will not, and cannot be an excuse or a crutch if the team fails early, but the coaching staff has taken a different approach to the offseason and in practice to give Buckeye Nation some hope for the upcoming campaign. The addition of Chris Jent to the coaching staff should provide immediate and evident dividends in the shooting and toughness departments of this basketball team. Add to the fact that the nucleus of this team has played together for an entire season and offseason, hopes are once again high in and around the program. The proof will be in the results as far as Buckeye fans are concerned and we are a long way from being able to tell if the turnaround is complete, but they will have ample opportunity on some big stages to prove it. Ultimately if I were in the prediction game, and for the purposes of this article, I am, I see Ohio State finishing somewhere in the top 5 of the conference, and making a triumphant return to the Big Dance in March, seeding to be determined, but if I had to guess, somewhere in the 5-7 range and a potential run to the sweet 16. Time will tell if I’m right and we will all be watching with bated breath as they tip it off in about a week.