Jaquan Lyle is a 6’4″ combo guard who’s had a rollercoaster ride of high schools, prep schools and colleges before settling in at OSU this past winter. No one has ever questioned Lyle’s talent…he’s a dynamc big guard who can play on or off the ball. Instead, his head and his mindset have been considered suspect at times. He originally committed to Louisville, decommitted to then commit to Oregon, then was academically ineligible and went to IMG Academy last season rather than sit out in Eugene, and then elected to come to OSU. He also had knee surgery in February, so there’s a health issue to wonder about. If Lyle is healthy and set mentally, he has the talent to be an impact player right away for the Bucks. He’s not the athlete or overall talent that Russell was but he can do some of the same things as a passer and shooter with size.
Mickey Mitchell is a 6’7″ forward from Texas who is a poster boy for the “early hype” phenomenon in HS recruiting circles. He was talked about as a prodigy when he was in 8th grade but as others caught up to him physically, some of the noise died down. None of that is meant to suggest that Mitchell can’t play, only that he didn’t end up as the elite prospect many assumed him to be as a 14 year old. I think where he’s settled in is as a really nice complimentary player at the Big Ten level. He’s aggressive and an outstanding passer for a guy his size but he’s not yet a great shooter and he’s had major injury history, with knee, back and ankle problems. He’s big enough to play at either the 3 or the 4 if need be. I expect he’ll earn a role but probably not as a star.
Daniel Giddens is a 6’10” 245 pound center from Oak Hill who has tremendous potential and physical tools. He’s considered to be a potentially elite defensive player and is a good rebounder, with athletic ability enough to run the floor and help in the transition game. What he doesn’t have yet is what most young big men lack, a developed and refined post game on offense. I think he’ll clearly play a role and help immediately but you’d probably give Thompson an edge for a starting spot, given that he’s older and has a year of practice in Columbus under his belt. Giddens has the raw material to be the program’s first impact big man since Jared Sullinger, though…he just may need time for the offensive end of the equation to fully come into focus.
AJ Harris is a 5’9″ point guard who uses exceptional quickness as his primary tool. The Dayton native plays hard and will give the Bucks a potentially impactful guy in transition and as a penetrator. As has often been the case with Buckeye point guards of recent vintage, his shot is more streaky than anything else, though he does have a reputation as a guy capable of getting hot from time to time. I expect he has an excellent chance to start immediately, given that OSU doesn’t have another true point guard on the roster. Figure that he’ll be the starter and get some help at the position from Williams and maybe Lyle in relief.
Austin Grandstaff is a 6’5″ shooting guard from out of Texas who should give the Buckeyes a deep threat sniper on the wing immediately. An AAU teammate of MSU signee Matt McQuaid, Grandstaff was highly regarded coming out of HS and I expect that he’ll earn an early role of some sort in the Buck rotation. He can stand to get stronger and to improve defensively, but he should be a zone buster right out of the chute.
OVERALL – We’re getting to the point where I start to question myself, in the sense that I have a team with a lot of talent picked to finish 8th. Yet, that’s probably about where the Bucks deserve to check in and I suspect you’ll see them right in this range…7th or 8th…in most preseason polls as well. It’s not that they lack talent, it’s that they’re fairly young overall and their pieces don’t fit together quite as obviously as some other teams in the conference.
Despite a lauded freshman class, I think the real key to OSU this season will be their sophomores. Can Tate continue to improve and become a more complete offensive threat while retaining his energy level and motor? Can Bates Diop thrive with increased minutes? Can Williams prove capable of handling a larger role and help out to some extent at the point, a big area of need for this team with Scott and Russell now gone? Can Thompson at least provide solid defense and rebounding in the post? These are the guys whom I think need to step forward and become reliable players in order for OSU to thrive.
While the sophs are the key core of the team, I think Lyle is the X factor. I expect the other freshmen to all help as role players…I suspect only Harris will start, while the other three figure in as rotation guys off the bench. Lyle is the guy who could emerge as an offensive focal point from that class, though. There are so many questions about him…physically, attitudnally, you name it. If he answers them positively, OSU could be better than this, because he has the potential to be an impact player.
I think OSU will be good…probably NCAA Tournament good. However, there are some capable teams just behind them in the conference pecking order and no guarantees that all the pieces with such a young group fit together seamlessly.