John Calipari likes to say that his Kentucky Wildcats are the youngest team in the country this year. However he needs to take a look a few hundred miles to the north where Thad Matta resides. Ohio State actually has the youngest roster in the country, and Matta is excited for the challenge that comes with it this year.
After losing D’Angelo Russell to the NBA and seniors like Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, and Amir Williams to graduation, Ohio State is left with a roster of almost entirely freshmen and sophomores. That is something that is not normal, but also not completely new for Matta.
“It’s funny,” said Matta. “I go back to 2008 when I had Jon Diebler and Evan Turner. I remember sitting them down and saying you guys have to play and have to be good. I think in terms of our freshmen this year that is the same thing. We are trying to explain to them that they have a golden opportunity, and to let us coach them, but we know there is no way we can give them experience. That said they have been great to this point.”
The two biggest areas of inexperience are at point guard and center. Russell and Scott got all of the minutes at point guard and Williams combined with Trey McDonald to get nearly all of the center minutes last year.
Now freshmen such as JaQuan Lyle, A.J. Harris, and Daniel Giddens are all going to be asked to step in and make plays.
“Eight practices in I have been pleasantly surprised with what those guys have brought to the table,” said Matta. “You have two different types of point guards in A.J. and JaQuan. Both are very effective at what they do. Daniel’s work ethic has blown us away. His skill development has been big. We knew he was athletic and strong, but we have been very happy with his skill level.”
While they freshmen are going to get a lot of the scrutiny, sophomores Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’sean Tate are probably going to be asked to lead this team with junior Marc Loving playing as well.
Those three all are “combo forwards” who don’t have a true position. According to Matta playing all three at the same time isn’t out of the question, and it will make the Buckeyes unique.
“If we want to play those three guys on the floor at the same time, we have to twist and turn, and that leads to coaching because then we have to exploit the mismatches and see who is guarding whom,” explained Matta. “There is going to be a weaker defender guarding one of them, and we have to take advantage of that.”
For now Matta the youth Ohio State has definitely presents a challenge, but it is one that Matta is looking forward to and one he chooses to look at from a glass half full perspective.
“Our roster makes things a little bit unique,” said Matta. “You can look at it as a positive or a negative, and obviously I am going to look at it as a positive.”