Believe it or not, basketball season is right around the corner. While most Ohio State fans probably think the Buckeyes don’t hit the hardwood until the final whistle sounds on the college football season, Thad Matta’s bunch will begin the season on Nov. 15.
While there are a wealth of story lines swirling around Urban Meyer and his defending national champion football team, there are plenty of reasons to take interest in the basketball Buckeyes.
Ohio State, who for a change will play four teams that resonate in college basketball before Christmas in Virginia, Memphis, Connecticut and Kentucky, is replacing four starters from last season’s team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32. The Buckeyes welcome five freshman and have no seniors, making them the youngest team in Matta’s 11 seasons in Columbus.
There’s still a lot of time to dive deep in to Ohio State basketball, but for now I’ll offer you my major takeaways from media day conversations with Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates Diop, Kam Williams, Marc Loving – the four Buckeyes with on-court experience in Columbus – and Matta.
- Ohio State lost its two best passers from last season in D'Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott and 87.5 percent of the assists the Buckeyes recorded last season came from players no longer on the roster. To fill that void, Matta said the team will have to rely on consistent ball movement to get open looks.
- While ball movement is a focus, the team appears to have capable passers in the freshman class. Jaquan Lyle was brought up by multiple players and Matta as a solid passer while freshman wing Mickey Mitchell was called one of the "best passers I've ever played with," by Kam Williams, high praise considering he was on the floor with Russell last season. Matta confirmed Mitchell is a special distributor.
- In other freshmen news, A.J. Harris is fast. the Dayton Dunbar point guard is able to sneak up on people with his athleticism because of his size (5-9), Matta said, and the coach said he is right there with Mike Conley Jr. as the fastest player he has coached.
- Matta said the Buckeyes will rely on their athleticism this season, which he joked they get from their head coach, but because of the youth the team has it will be a "day by day building process."
- With Trevor Thompson, Daniel Giddens and Dave Bell all newly eligible for the Buckeyes, the play in the post will look very different this season. Thompson in particular drew rave reviews from Matta as a player that can initiate the offense from the post. The Virginia Tech transfer is capable of playing with his back to the basket and is a solid passer, though he too often goes for the home run, Matta said. The key for him will be the mental side to the game.
- With those post players taking up minutes down low, Tate should be able to play more on the wing. His post skills will be an asset in his new role and Matta listed Tate, Lyle and Bates-Diop as wing players who will be able to post up their defenders.
- Despite the return of two players with starting experience in Tate and Loving, Matta would not commit to any starters at this stage and is unsure how the rotation will work out.
Matta was noticable concerned about his team's nonconference schedule as the young Buckeyes will be challenged by Kentucky, Virignia, Connecticutt and Memphis before the start of Big Ten play.