When asked two seasons ago who would step in to fill the role of departed scorer and rebounder Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas was the easy answer. When Thomas departed LaQuinton Ross was the heir apparent. All three of those seasons came with the knowledge that Aaron Craft would lead the defense, serving as the heart and soul of Thad Matta's team. Ask those same questions this year and the answers are more muddled.
“As far as defining us I just feel like we’ve got to go out there and play our game,” senior Shannon Scott said. “We’ve got a lot of newcomers, but we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of experience this year. I feel like, yeah, we did lose some players, but we are going to be a completely different team this year. We’ve got a lot to prove, but we are going to be successful doing that.”
As the point guard alluded to, the Buckeyes are a mixed bag of experience and freshman this season. Ohio State has four seniors on scholarship in Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald while graduate transfer Anthony Lee joins the fold from Temple with one year of eligibility left. They also have youth with freshman D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and David Bell forming a highly touted recruiting class. Redshirt freshman Kam Williams and sophomore Marc Loving are also expected to be key contributors.
For this version of the Buckeyes to be most successful, they will have to lean on their seniors, specifically Scott, Thompson and Williams. Each of those three players has played in over 90 games since coming to Columbus and they will be charged with leading a group that is not clearly defined.
“We’ve definitely got to set the tone,” Scott said of the seniors. “We’ve got to be the guys on the court keeping everybody composed, making sure everybody is doing what they’ve got to do. I feel like we’ve got a lot of experience so we should do a good job of doing that this year.”
The seniors have plenty of experience in terms of minutes on the court, but the group is lacking in a statistical leader. Thompson is the team’s leading returning scorer after averaging 7.9 points a game last season. That was good for fourth on last year’s squad while Williams and Scott followed with 7.8 and 7.5 points per game, respectively.
Still, Thompson said the talent is there for this team to be solid on both ends of the floor this season.
“Obviously just like with any team there is going to be a little bit of a learning process as far as figuring out our identity,” he said. “But I still think we are a very good offensive team, we’re a very good defensive team.”
One thing that may define the 2014-2015 Buckeyes may not be immediately obvious on the court. Thad Matta said his team is going to have to scrap and claw to be successful, but they are also going to have to be smart.
“Really adding an element of intelligence to how we want to play,” “he said. “In terms of identity we have to use our length, we have to use our athleticism to our advantage, we have to use our shot blocking (and) we have to use our size. But at the same token there has to be that element of thinking the game of basketball.”
While thinking will be key, the attributes Matta listed – length, athleticism and shot blocking – clearly lend toward the defensive side of the floor and the coach will once again demand a lot out of his team on that end.
The Buckeyes lost one of the program’s best defenders in Craft last season, but players said at media days that they believe they can once again be one of the best defensive unites in the Big Ten.
“Craft obviously gets a lot of notoriety for being the great defender that he was, but Shannon Scott was first-team all defense and Amir Williams has been one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the Big Ten throughout his career here,” Thompson said. “We’ve lost a lot, but there is definitely still a lot on the defensive side of the ball. Just like every other year this will be a defensive minded team.”
Who exactly will lead the charge on that end is still unclear. As is the question of what will define the Buckeyes offensively. With their first game not until Nov. 14 and conference play not opening until Dec. 30, they have plenty of time to find the answers.