DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State’s ninth all-time leading scorer and the third-place holder for points in single season, declared for the NBA Draft and was selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the 28th pick in the second round before deciding that it was in his best interest to play overseas next season.
Evan Ravenel, post-presence extraordinaire and last year’s only senior, has no eligibility left and will not be back with the Buckeyes this season.
And Chris Jent, one of the nation’s premier assistant coaches, took his talents to Sacramento to work on Michael Malone’s Kings staff.
With these three big losses, can the Buckeyes bounce back and avenge their Elite Eight departure from last season?
All signs are pointing in that direction.
The majority of the scoring burden that DeShaun Thomas bestowed upon the Buckeyes will be taken by none other than Sweet Sixteen hero, LaQuinton Ross.
Ross has proven in the most pressure-filled moments that he is up to the challenge. His 60 points in the NCAA Tournament, including his buzzer-beater three-pointer against Arizona, proved that.
While he only averaged 8.3 points per game last season, Ross is in line for much more playing time and many more touches, likely giving him the ability to average the 15-20 points that he is capable of.
Ross is going to be the focal point of the offense, but if the Buckeyes want to make a Final Four run, LaQuinton’s going to need some help.
Fortunately, this is where this team’s experience comes in handy.
Seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., as well as juniors Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, combined to average 34 points last season and will need to at least equal that number this year.
Aaron Craft, who has often been criticized for his offensive play, may take a massive leap this year after spending the majority of his offseason working on his offensive game. Each year, Craft’s points per game average has risen by two points. Could he double it this year? It’s not out of the question.
This year’s team also has plenty of young talent that could pitch in to the scoring totals as well.
Amadeo Della Valle, last season’s “cult hero”, will certainly make his impact felt on both ends of the floor, but his three-point range is going to be incredibly valuable on the offensive end of the floor.
Freshmen Marc Loving, the 6’8, 200 pound, small forward from Toledo, and Kam Williams, the 6’3, 180 pound, shooting guard from Baltimore, will certainly make their marks on the offensive end off of the bench as well. Each was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and each was ranked as the number two player in their respective state last season.
If Ross carries the load, offensively, the problems won’t be many.
Defensively, the Buckeyes are going to be beautiful.
On the perimeter, there’s little doubt, that will be the case.
With Craft, Smith Jr. and Thompson patrolling the backcourt, the Buckeyes will shut down any team that tries to keep it outside.
The problem, however, comes in the paint and this is where Ravenel’s presence will be missed the most.
Ravenel, while not the most efficient offensive player, was certainly a defensive stalwart in the post. His big body stood strong while tangling with some of the Big Ten’s ferocious bigs.
This year, the Buckeyes may struggle to find the guy who can bang around with the bigs in the paint.
The rather slim body of LaQuinton Ross is going to create matchup problems for the Buckeyes in the paint and the atrocious footwork of Amir Williams will do the same.
If Ross can somehow use his lengthy limbs to combat the power forwards he’ll be fighting against, the Buckeyes might be in good shape. Similarly, if Williams can actually move his feet and use his massive frame as a strength, the Buckeyes should be fine defensively.
Contrary to their offensive problems, however, these question marks are much less easily answered.
In other words, while it could happen, it certainly isn’t all that likely.
As for the departure of Jent, the Buckeyes should still be fine. Thad Matta is one of the best in the business and still has a tremendous staff on the bench next to him. Jeff Boals, Dave Dickerson and Greg Paulus may form one of the most respected coaching staffs in all of college basketball.
Jent’s departure certainly wasn’t desired, but the Buckeyes can certainly bounce back from it.
With all of that being said, what can we expect from this basketball team? Can they win another Big Ten Championship despite the loss of their leading scorer and bench defender? Can they avenge the aforementioned loss in the Elite Eight and reach the Final Four?
The Big Ten might be tough. Michigan State seems to be college basketball’s second most feared team and as good as the Buckeyes may be, Izzo’s group might have the Big Ten Championship on lock.
Aside from the Spartans, however, the Big Ten is certainly up for grabs. Michigan doesn’t look nearly as intimidating without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Wisconsin is Wisconsin and Illinois looks beatable as well.
The Buckeyes could very well compete for the Big Ten Championship, but they would be hard pressed to beat that Michigan State team in doing so.
That being said, all signs are pointing towards another deep run for the Buckeyes in the tournament, especially with all of last year’s experience propelling them forward. They should be in line for a decently high seed and could absolutely make it back to the Final Four.
Anything less than a trip to the Jerry Dome in Arlington might even be considered a disappointment.