LAST SEASON

Heading into the season, there was some optimism that the combination of veterans like Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson with a strong recruiting class led by guard D’Angelo Russell might be enough to produce a team capable of pushing favored Wisconsin in the Big Ten race. As it turned out, while there were plenty of individual highlights courtesy of Russell, the Bucks collectively couldn’t quite pull it all together. They didn’t have a horrible year but needed a 3-1 close in conference play to reach their final 11-7 record. In Tournament play they got a first round victory over VCU before getting ripped by Arizona to end their season.

In the end, OSU was an improved offensive team in many ways, led by Russell’s complete offensive game. However, what has been a strong defensive unit for several years running regressed a bit and that’s what kept the Bucks from being an upper tier type of team. Thad Matta toggled back and forth between zone and man after having been exclusively a man coach for several years, and in the end I don’t think it did his team any favors as they never managed to develop a consistent level of play at the defensive end. Add in that for all of their shooting success the Bucks never developed a strong post game and it was bound to be a middling campaign by OSU standards. Russell left after just one season as expected, en route to a likely top 5 position in the upcoming NBA Draft. OSU also lost vets like Scott, Thompson and Amir Williams, all of whom played a lot of minutes over the previous four seasons for some very successful Buck teams. What it sets up is what appears to be a transitional season coming. OSU will not be lacking for talent but it’ll feature a lot of new faces as well as others in increasingly important roles.

RETURNING PLAYERS

Marc Loving is a 6’7″ junior forward who really had two different seasons last year. Up until his suspension, Loving was on fire shooting from deep, well on the plus side of 50% and proving a capable offensive sidekick to Russell. After he came back he wasn’t nearly the same player. His overall numbers still look good…46% both overall and from three…but they represented a step back and his overall play was less confident than it had been previously. This is a big season coming up for Loving. He was a highly regarded recruit out of Toledo and after two mixed seasons in Columbus, OSU needs him to step up and become a consistent factor for them. I’ll admit, I’ve been a little surprised it’s been this tough for Loving. I first saw him as a 15 year old and thought I was watching another Alan Henderson. To date, the interior part of his game hasn’t come along nearly as well as I’d anticipated and I think that’s what he needs to improve in order to make good on his potential. Yes, he can shoot, but the Bucks need him to be a factor at the rim on both ends.

I’m a big fan of 6’4″ sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate. He’s an undersized post player at this stage, really (3-19 from three) and he has turnover problems but he is energy personified and his wingspan allows him to play bigger than his listed size. He averaged 8.8 ppg and 5 rpg (second on the team) as a freshman and I think he’s just scratching the surface. He’s not nearly the passer or shooter that Draymond Green was but he’s got some similarities in terms of his wingspan and his clever post game, not to mention the energy with which he plays the game. I think he’s just going to get better and better and if he ever does develop a true perimeter game, look out.

Kam Williams is a 6’2″ sophomore guard who should see a dramatically increased role both on and off the ball. He only averaged 14 mpg but did well in that playing time, hitting 45/35% from the floor and proving he can be a scoring option going forward. They think he can help running the offense as well and while I’m not sold on him as anything close to a full time answer at that position, I can see him earning some minutes on the ball helping out.

Keita Bates Diop is a 6’8″ sophomore forward who was actually second only to Russell in terms of reputation among OSU’s freshmen, yet he struggled to find a consistent role early on. He did play better as the season went along and shot so well (47/46%) that there’s reason for optimism that he could provide a real boost with increased minutes. He also has good athleticism to go with his size and could end up playing both the 3 and the 4 for Thad Matta. He’s a guy to watch and if I had to pick one OSU returnee who would be most likely to take a significant step forward from last season’s production, he’d be the guy I’d choose.

David Bell is a 6’10” 225lbs redshirt freshman center who was seen as a project when he committed. They think over the long haul he can be a guy who impacts the game defensively first and foremost (he averaged 4.6 blocks per game as a HS senior) because he’s big and decently athletic for a guy his size. Offensively, he’s reportedly very, very raw, so I don’t look for much from him on that end early. In fact, it’s doubtful he sees much meaningful time this season…they’re looking at him as a guy who might be able to help as a junior or senior, realistically.

Trevor Thompson is a 6’11” 210lbs transfer from Virginia Tech who sat out last season but will be eligible next year for OSU as a sophomore and is expected to contend for a starting role. He averaged 5 pts, 4.7 rebounds and almost 1 block per game in his one year with the Hokies, making 10 starts for them. While that production wasn’t overwheming it does suggest real potential and now that he’s had a year in Columbus working with the OSU coaches, it’s reasonable to expect continued improvement from him. Given that OSU will still have a lot of firepower on the perimeter, I’d guess Matta is hoping that Thompson can primarily impact games defensively and on the glass. He’s gone three years running now without much in the way of post offense, so if Thompson does give the Bucks anything there, it’ll likely be seen as a bonus.