When Ohio State's season ended Sunday thoughts immediately turn to what's next for the Buckeye basketball program. After the worst season in Thad Matta's 12-year tenure, the team's 14 losses are the most suffered by an Ohio State team since the year before Matta arrived, where does the team go from here and how can a downward trend be reversed?
The first step towards answering that question is determining who the Buckeyes will have on hand for next season. While that query was already relatively clear with every scholarship player from the 2015-16 team expected to return next season, things became even clearer Tuesday evening when Ohio State extended a scholarship offer to 2016 three-star wing Andre Wesson, a move confirmed by his younger brother and 2017 Buckeye commit Kaleb Wesson.
While Andre Wesson has yet to accept the offer, the 6-6 190-pound Westerville South small forward is widely expected to pledge to the Buckeyes and join a class that features three-star center Micah Potter and four-star power forward Derek Funderburk. That commitment would fill the Ohio State scholarship limit for next season, barring any transfers, so let's take a look at what Matta will have at his disposal next season.
- Sophomore JaQuan Lyle
- Sophomore A.J. Harris
- Senior Marc Loving
- Junior Keita-Bates-Diop
- Junior Kam Williams
- Freshman Andre Wesson (not committed)
- Junior Trevor Thompson
- Junior Jae'Sean Tate
- Sophomore Daniel Giddens
- Sophomore Mickey Mitchell
- Sophomore Dave Bell
- Freshman Micah Potter
- Freshman Derek Funderburk
Clearly there's plenty to work with in the post. Even though Tate and Mitchell can function as wings in a limited capacity ironing out the rotation down low will be a challenge for Matta next season.
Regardless of how the new players fit in, the key for Ohio State to make sure their NIT appearances end at one season and the Buckeyes start another NCAA tournament appearances streak is the development of the players who are returning after a disappointing 2015-16 season.
Matta will certainly work to get that improvement from his roster, but the coaching staff can only do so much in the offseason.
“I think this: The guys that develop the best are the ones that want to develop the best. I think sometimes look and people say, ‘Well, this kid didn’t get any better.’ Truth be told, he didn’t want to get better. I think all the players that we’ve really developed had a sense of they wanted to be players," the head coach said. "I think from that perspective, getting guys that want to be players, that want to do all the little things, those are the guys that are going to develop the best. They want the extra work, they want to be coached and in the end only one person knows whether they’re giving it their all or not.”
While those thoughts will not please the Matta dissenters in the fan base, a group that has come out in full force this season after a program-best streak of seven NCAA tournament appearances was snapped this year, the coach isn't wrong. Where the program goes from here is as much about the players themselves as anything the coaching staff can do.
There's certainly talent on hand. Lyle had moments of brilliance in his freshman season and has said improvement on his part is as much about the mental side of the game as the physical side. Tate is never lacking for effort and toughness and assuming he returns from February shoulder surgery in full force, should provide solid leadership. Bates-Diop may have the highest offensive ceiling on the roster and Loving has a set of skills built for the college level. Next year is the time to put it all together and reverse the downward trend -- the Buckeyes seventh-place finish in the BIg Ten this season follows sixth- and fifth-place finishes the two years prior.
Lyle said after the team's season came to an end against Florida in the NIT's second round that he hopes the team is ready to improve.
"Me personally, I don’t know why any of them would say they’re hungry for next year when we had a game today and we came out flat in both halves," he said. "I would say most guys are hungry, but I don’t really know if everyone is really as hungry as they say they are."
Only the players know that for sure and only the players can make sure the program reverses course.