Ohio State is firmly in the NCAA Tournament at this point, but is still jockeying for seeding. If the Buckeyes hope to put together any sort of postseason run, they will certainly need star D’Angelo Russell to carry them as he did in scoring 28 in a 65-61 win over Purdue Sunday.
Take Ohio State’s recent tournament success for example.
During the 2013 run to the Elite Eight, Deshaun Thomas was the clear alpha male, but LaQuinton Ross stepped up to average 15 points per game in four tournament contests, nearly doubling his season average. Aaron Craft tallied 11 per game in the tournament.
A year earlier the Buckeyes advanced to the final four on the strength of stud Jared Sullinger while Thomas played second fiddle with 19.2 points per game in the tournament. William Buford brought balance with 13.2 per game.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. For any sort of meaningful postseason, a team needs more than one guy contributing offensively. This year’s Buckeyes are not as deep and certainly not as experienced as the last two Ohio State squads to make an Elite Eight run. That doesn’t mean Thad Matta and the team don’t harbor aspirations of a NCAA tourney march.
With Russell and the right matchups – avoiding a team deep with post talent is paramount – a run to the Sweet 16 is certainly possible. We all know anything can happen in a one-and-done format. So the question remains, who could step up to help Russell carry the load?
History suggests that two players will be needed so I decided to take a look at who might be best suited to step up in the postseason for the Buckeyes.
While not known as a scorer, Thompson is my safest bet to be an offensive contributor for the Buckeyes in the postseason. He’s been there before, advancing to the final four as a freshman in 2012 and to the Elite Eight in 2013. In his sophomore campaign he scored 16 points in a Sweet 16 win over Arizona and seven in a narrow loss to Wichita State after scoring 20 against an overmatched Iona squad in the Buckeyes tournament opener.
Furthermore, as Ohio State’s best defensive player Thompson will log a lot of postseason minutes. He’s been consistent, if not spectacular offensively this season. Thompson has logged double figures 18 times this season, second on the team to Russell, and has done so in the last five contests. He scores 10.6 per game on the season, second on the team.
I’m confident Thompson can contribute in the postseason, though he is probably best suited to be the third guy on the offensive end for the Buckeyes to maximize their potential.
A month ago, Loving would have probably been the best pick to play second fiddle to Russell. He was averaging 11.7 points per game and was the Buckeyes best three-point shooter when he was suspended for three games for undisclosed reasons. Since his return he has scored four points a game in four contests. He is 2 for 10 from distance since returning.
If he returns to form, Loving could still be the second guy. He has shown flashes in the past two games but his shot simply isn’t falling. He is still third on the team in double-digit games this season with 16 and the Buckeyes best play of the season, wins over Indiana and Maryland, coincided with Loving’s best stretch. In my view, his play is the biggest X-factor for the Buckeyes.
Tate’s 22 points against Nebraska last week matched Thompson for the highest output this season by a player not named Russell. The freshman has also scored 20 or more three times, the only player aside from Russell to hit that mark more than once. Clearly, he can be a scorer in the tournament, right?
Maybe. I’m hesitant to give Tate a good chance of becoming that guy this season. Despite some impressive scoring outputs, he isn’t really a scorer. His points come from hustle plays, being active around the basket and getting offensive rebounds. While I have no doubt Tate will bring energy every game, postseason or not, those type of points just aren’t there sometimes (evidenced by his inconsistent point totals) which makes relying on him as a scorer dangerous.
Here is the biggest wild card on this list. KBD has scored in double figures just twice this season, but he has shown flashes of scoring potential, especially an ability to knock down shots from behind the arc.
The best case scenario for the freshman would be to mirror the run of Ross in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Ross entered the postseason averaging 7.3 points per game before recording 9.0 a game in the Big Ten Tournament and 15 a game in the NCAA Tournament. KBD is currently averaging just 4.3 points per contest. If the Buckeyes have to rely on KBD, they are probably going to be in trouble. But if Bates-Diop can serve as a luxury scorer it could do wonders for the Buckeyes postseason.