Lots of places have done an excellent job putting together post-mortems on the Buckeye’s basketball season since the rough loss to Kansas in the Final Four. In particular, I highly recommend Our Honor Defend‘s player-by-player grade breakdown for the season by Michael, which he completed in three parts.
However, I must admit that during the last week I found myself less looking back at what had happened and more looking forward to what is to come. Perhaps some of that is a defensive mechanism, trying to keep me from realizing what exactly we’re losing. It’s probably also keeping me from analyzing Saturday’s meltdown too closely. I’m fairly certain a deep analysis will cause me to have an aneurysm, so it’s probably best to avoid that.
There’s one thing I know for certain, though, and it is probably the real reason I can’t keep myself from looking far into the future. I am incredibly excited about next year’s basketball team already. I simply cannot wait to see what these kids are going to bring to the table, and there’s already plenty to be excited about.
So, from this incredibly early perspective, I want to take a look at what this basketball team may look like next year. Specifically, we’re going to look at what the starting lineup might look like given what we know today.
What are the Buckeyes losing?
With the recent news of Jared Sullinger’s not-unexpected departure, the interior of the Buckeye’s game has become a little murkier. Where Sullinger provided excellent scoring and defense (nearly 18 points per game is nothing to ever sneeze at), someone is going to have to step up and fill in that gap in the offense.
The other piece the Buckeyes are losing is Senior William Buford, who contributed significant minutes the last several years at the three. It is not going to be easy replacing his experience at the position, regardless of his inconsistent decision making shooting the basketball. There are several options, but there will be some growing pains there.
In terms of scoring, the Buckeyes put in 2849 points during the course of the season. Jared Sullinger accounted for a team-high 647 of those points, while William Buford clocked in at third with 566 points. Overall, that accounts for 42.6% of Ohio State’s offensive production. That is obviously by no means a small portion of the scoring to be losing.
As an aside, Deshaun Thomas put together the second highest total on the team with 619 points. If we were to lose him as well, that would bring the damage to 64.3% of the total offense.
OSU is also losing 38.2% of their total rebounding on the season, 40% of their made 3 pointers, and 42% of their made baskets.
How are the Buckeyes going to account for this?
The answer may be easier than you expect. The first answer will be in the paint, where Amir Williams will be the most likely to win the starting position. While his offensive production was sorely lacking last season, scoring only 0.258 points per minute played compared to Jared Sullinger’s 0.576, he demonstrated good effort on the defensive end. He registered a total of 23 blocks on the season in 6.6 minutes per game through 29 games, while Jared Sullinger picked up a measly 39 blocks in 30.4 minutes per game in 37 games.
Williams still has a lot of work to do to get his offense to where it needs to be. It’s no question why he did not receive much playing time this year. Other than the obvious factor that it would have been silly to take Sullinger out of most games, Amir Williams is not the most impressive specimen on offense yet. One of his biggest issues is an inability to move his feet and set himself up in the post. With an off-season of work, especially being groomed to be a future key player, he will improve his positioning and movement on the interior of the offense.
There will still be growing pains with Williams, of course. You do not simply replace a dominant two year starter like Sullinger without some difficulty. However, Sullinger’s statement of how impressed people will be with Amir Williams after the Kansas loss is tough to ignore. I’ll be interested to see how accurate that claim turns out to be.
Replacing William Buford may actually be easier than replacing Jared Sullinger, at least in terms of options. The key answers at this position will be Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross, two players who have already started to demonstrate their abilities for the fans.
Neither has demonstrated the smooth shooting touch that William Buford displayed early in his career. However, that does not mean that neither is capable of developing a good, or even great, shooting game. I expect that both will be working on those aspects of their game, and the starting job may end up going to the best shooter of the pair.
Ross starts out in the least favorable position, having been declared academically ineligible for the first month of the season. While he came in, he had missed much of the early practices, and found himself far behind everyone else. Those struggles relegated him deep on the bench despite having been arguably the most impressive freshman in the summer workouts. That talent will display itself this year in a big way regardless of how things turn out.
However, if he wants to be a starter he’s going to have to beat out the current favorite for that role. Sam Thompson proved during the course of the year that he was worthy of Matta’s trust on the defensive end. While his offensive production was a mediocre .198 points per minute, he still showed flashes of genius and athleticism that are incredibly hard to ignore. The kid can play above the rim and can presumably shoot the ball well, though we have yet to really see that side of his game.
What about the other possible departures?
First, Deshaun Thomas is a little bit of an enigma at this point. He currently has until Tuesday to make up his mind as to whether he is leaving for the NBA or not. Interestingly, the current rumors suggest that Thomas is leaning towards staying with the Buckeyes for another year to continue to improve his draft stock. If Thomas were to stay (and at this point, I’m assuming he is going to) that would give the Buckeyes at least one guaranteed consistent scorer to bank on while helping the new starters grow into their roles.
There are two other names that have come up in regards to possible transfers. The first was Jordan Sibert, the supposed heir to Diebler’s throne as the three-point shooting specialist. After the Northwestern game, when he finally connected on 4 of his 6 three pointers and looked like he was finally stepping into his role, Sibert admitted to having not worked as hard in the off-season as he probably should have.
That lack of preparation may have cost him his playing time this year. Considering he only played 11.4 minutes per game through 24 games, it would not be surprising if he’s actually considering packing his bags (he’s repeatedly said he has not decided to leave, but has not said that he isn’t thinking about it). However, it is well known what Sibert could potentially do for the Buckeyes if he puts the effort in. If he puts the effort in, it could be a great feel-good story for next year’s Buckeyes.
The last name who could potentially open up a scholarship is J.D. Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon has demonstrated incredible athleticism in his own right, but hasn’t quite gotten to the point where he can produce consistently – particularly on defense. That has limited his floor time thus far in his career despite what he could provide on the offensive end. If he can clean up his defensive abilities, which I suspect he can, he could provide quality minutes for the Buckeyes in a back-up role at either the 2 or 3 positions. Unfortunately, of any of the remaining players considering leaving, Weatherspoon seems the most likely candidate to bow out.
What will the lineups look like next year?
Assuming the OSU recruiting class this year includes no new names that could make a big splash (unlikely if we can bring in Tony Parker), the starting lineup may look something like this.
1 – Aaron Craft
2 – Lenzelle Smith
3 – Sam Thompson/LaQuinton Ross
4 – Deshaun Thomas
5 – Amir Williams
With Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith stepping up their scoring late in the season, there is no question that this lineup should excite you. A high flyer at the 3 (with either of the possibilities), a shot blocker at the 5, and a pure scorer at the 4. Add to that the ball distributing and scoring from the 1s and 2s and you have a pretty solid lineup to work with.
If Tony Parker does end up joining the Buckeyes, you can expect that he will get plugged in at the 5 position with Amir Williams providing quality backup minutes. Considering what’s being said about Mr. Parker, that lineup could be incredibly potent on both ends of the court.
The backups at each of these positions currently looks like this:
1 – Shannon Scott
2 – Jordan Sibert/JD Weatherspoon/Shannon Scott
3 – JD Weatherspoon/Jordan Sibert
4 – Trey McDonald/Evan Ravenel
5 – Evan Ravenel/Trey McDonald
There’s a little bit of flexibility given here considering the way we’ve seen some of these players used this season. Scott and Ravenel have already demonstrated they can play quality time in a backup role, and are really starting to develop their games. Sibert and Weatherspoon obviously depend on getting work done in the offseason.
My biggest concern is with Trey McDonald, who was very obviously a project coming into the season. We have not seen him play enough to get a sense for how much he has improved from his high school film, but to depend on him to back up Deshaun Thomas at the 4 is a little scary at this point. I trust Matta’s staff will be able to develop the necessary skills, but it is clear that getting at least one quality big in this class will be important for interior depth. That remains true even if they only play when the starters are in foul trouble.
I see no reason why this team next year won’t continue Matta’s philosophy of only playing 7 or 8 off the bench. I could see the possibility of 9, depending on recruits and how well the backups improve going into the season, but don’t get your hopes up too high for that. Matta likes running a few quality guys for long minutes, and there’s no reason to ever really expect that to change.
The next few weeks should be interesting, and may significantly change some of the ideas presented here. I will continue to provide updates throughout the summer as to my thoughts concerning news and how the team seems to be shaping up as a whole.