What Matta has now is a bunch of athletic players he still needs to form into a working team, a much harder task than it was the last two seasons when he had an All-American in the paint in Jared Sullinger.
With many questions still remaining about the potential starting lineup, the rotation and what the identity of this team will be moving forward, we break down some of the things we learned from the Buckeyes' first action of the season – even if it doesn't count.
• This is Deshaun Thomas' team – I was actually surprised when Thomas came back after the NCAA Tournament he had a year ago. However, the situation he has at OSU could set him up much better in the future. For the first time, this is Thomas team and he will be relied on even more than we think to do what he loves – score the basketball. A preseason Associated Press All-American, Thomas scored 25 points against Walsh and looked comfortable doing it. Thomas seemed to develop a more fluid game in the post, but he consistent got open off screens and was successful creating his own shot. The most important thing was that his teammates found him. It may become reasonable to expect 22-25 points per game out of the junior.
• Don't read too much into LaQuinton Ross starting – I thought there was something more to Ross being in the starting lineup over Sam Thompson, but it turns out that Matta just likes the way Thompson works with Scott and preferred he come off the bench for the exhibition game. With all the lineup changes there were, it is hard to read too much into anything. Ross, however, settled down after taking a terrible shot on the team's first possession to score 13 points. He looked comfortably offensively, and it looks to me like he is primed to be a steady contributor this year.
• But, I don't see Ross starting over Thompson – The reason I say that is that Thompson is much further ahead defensively, and I think the team was more competent as a unit in getting stops with Thompson on the court. It still boggles my mind how lengthy of a defender Thompson is, which could really cause problems for the opposition. Also, don't sleep on Thompson's ability to be an offensive weapon. He knocked down a few jumpers against Walsh and finished the game 5-of-9 shooting. Thompson is still my pick for breakout player of the year for the Buckeyes, and I envision him starting against Marquette in the Carrier Classic on Nov. 9.
• This team isn't running yet – Perhaps that's because there were a ton of lineup changes, which makes it hard for everyone to get comfortable with one another. However, this team didn't run much and I think that's because the pressure defense wasn't always up to par. At times the Buckeyes swarmed to the ball, but others Walsh got to the basket with ease and finished. If OSU wants to be more of a force in transition and fly up and down the floor, there's a lot to learn. It first starts with better defense, but it also is an entire mentality that a team has to adopt. Being able to run doesn't just happen overnight – it takes time to learn. OSU hasn't gotten there yet.
• Shannon Scott has grown – Scott played very aggressively, and it seems to me like the player that was timid with the basketball is long gone. I really liked what I saw when he was on the floor with Aaron Craft, and I anticipate that being a very fun lineup to watch as the season progresses. Bottom line, Scott looked more confident. He's going to be a major player in helping OSU push the tempo and he finally looks poised with the basketball in his hand. He took his jumper when he had the look, he made some tough passes and he always sported a running mentality.
• Craft will be more aggressive offensively – I anticipated that Craft would be far more aggressive on the offense this year, but we didn't get a glimpse of it against the Cavaliers. Perhaps he was just focused on playing well as the lineups abruptly changed, but I didn't see the aggressiveness out of him that I anticipated. Right now, I feel as if the Buckeyes are in need of making everyone on the floor as scoring threat and Craft is definitely capable. But he has to put shots up to score.
• Amir Williams isn't an offensive threat – Williams had five blocks – though a lot of them happened because OSU got beat on defense – but expecting him to be a big offensive player this year may be a mistake. I don't think he'll be scoring field goals a lot that don't come in the form of dunks.
• Bench will be involved – Trust me, I am taking nothing away from the way Matta used his rotation against Walsh. However, I do feel as if the Buckeyes will play eight players this year. I feel like there are too many different players that do unique things well, and this team is certainly in need of diverse ability. Call it a hunch, but I am calling it now – eight players will have considerable roles, and nine will play.