By Bob Baptist
COLUMBUS: For the first time in five years, Ohio State came home from the NCAA Tournament after one game. But even though the Buckeyes’ season ended early, with a one-point loss to Dayton on Thursday in the South Regional, the program never stops moving.
Offseason skill instruction and physical training will resume soon for the players. Recruiting never ends for the coaches. And there could be movement among them, too.
Assistant Dave Dickerson could be a candidate for the opening at Florida Atlantic, sources confirmed to the Dispatch on Sunday. He has not yet interviewed for the job, but he is acquainted with the school’s athletic director, Patrick Chun, a former assistant athletic director at Ohio State.
In any case, it will be an offseason of transition for the Buckeyes, who are losing the face of the program in Aaron Craft and another three-year starter in Lenzelle Smith Jr., whose up-and-down final season rubbed some of the sheen off their legacies. In addition, junior forward LaQuinton Ross has declared his intention to enter the NBA Draft and backup guard Amedeo Della Valle announced on Twitter that he is returning to Europe in hopes of playing professional ball.
Here is a position-by-position look at who is returning to and joining the Buckeyes, and what more they need if they hope to return to the tournament next year:
After one year on the bench and two playing alongside Craft, the ball will be Shannon Scott’s to run with. Scott has to play aggressively and use his quickness at both ends of the floor, and not having to defer to Craft on offense should help.
Ideally, Scott can use his quickness to come off ball screens, attack the paint and either draw defenders and find open teammates or finish on his own. But he will need perimeter scoring around him to space the defense and open driving lanes, which were hard to find as the Buckeyes made only 32.4 percent of their 3-point attempts, their lowest percentage in 14 years.
This position is wide open after Smith’s departure, and speculation is that freshman D’Angelo Russell has what it takes to fill it. Russell’s arrival is much-anticipated because he’s a 6-foot-5 McDonald’s All-American who recruiting analysts say has deep shooting range and the ball-handling and passing ability to create off the dribble and fill in at the point for Scott. He will need to add muscle during the offseason to hold up against more-physical defenses.
Kam Williams arrived last summer with a reputation as a scorer but redshirted after mononucleosis set him back during the first couple of months of the season.
The most explosive player on the roster, Sam Thompson, can do a lot of things, but he must do most of them better next season, beginning with driving defenders to the rim and finishing without the assist of an alley-oop pass. That would round out his game, as would a higher percentage of makes from behind the arc (his 3-point accuracy fell 5 percentage points this season) and better rebounding (2.7 per game is way too low for a player with his hops and athleticism).
Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes’ latest Illinois import, is an athletic offensive player at 6-7 who, like Russell, will need to add strength and muscle to transfer his skills to a more-physical game.
Another freshman, Jae’Sean Tate of Pickerington Central, son of former Ohio State center Jermaine Tate, will miss some offseason training after shoulder surgery but, when healthy, could earn time with his ability to defend multiple positions.
With Ross leaving for the NBA, Marc Loving has the next shot at the position. He will need a big summer adding muscle so he can have the same impact in Big Ten games that he had against nonconference teams early on, before he seemingly wore down physically and mentally. Early, he showed shooting range and an ability to rebound, two things needed at the “stretch forward” spot in coach Thad Matta’s offense.
This is the most-worrisome position on the team after another season of flashes too few and far between from 6-11 Amir Williams, whose inconsistent engagement at both ends mirrored the team’s.
Trey McDonald was a willing replacement and provided more energy, but he was foul-prone and, at 6-8, susceptible to being scored over by taller opponents.
Incoming freshman Dave Bell is 6-10 and athletic but also acknowledged by Matta to be a project, so his impact is not expected to be immediate. That’s why Matta and his staff are turning over rocks looking for help.
Possibilities include 6-9 Anthony Lee and 6-10 Myles Turner. Lee, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds as a junior at Temple, will transfer after graduating in the spring and will be immediately available to play. But he has many suitors and has not decided whether to visit Ohio State. Turner, a five-star high school center out of Bedford, Texas, has a who’s who of programs recruiting him, so he might be a long shot.