The No. 10 Ohio State men’s basketball team may be more than two weeks away from its season opener against Morgan State, but the Buckeyes have been back at it in practice for almost a month now, gearing up for the 2013-14 season.
Thanks to the Agonis Club’s seventh annual tip-off event on Tuesday, BuckeyeSports.com got a sneak peak of this year’s OSU squad, as the Buckeyes opened up their doors to the paying public for their 21st preseason practice. Below are observations that I made throughout Ohio State’s hour-long open session, which was proceeded by live and silent auctions, as well as an autograph session for fans.
Let’s get to what you probably want to know most: what will the Buckeyes’ starting five be? Unfortunately, the scrimmage session held by Thad Matta didn’t give a true indication as to what OSU’s lineup may look like, as the two practicing teams each featured traditional starters. One squad was comprised of Aaron Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Marc Loving, Amir Williams, and former Buckeye David Lighty,practicing in place of Lenzelle Smith Jr., who was dealing with an infection according to Matta. The scarlet squad was made up of Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Andrew Goldstein, LaQuinton Ross, and Trey McDonald. The logic between the two teams remains unclear, so I wouldn’t read too far into who was playing with who on Tuesday.
The star of the show was Scott, who displayed an improved shot, connecting on at least three 3-point attempts throughout the duration of the scrimmage. On one possession, he took Craft to the hoop for a clean finished, and also did a good job setting up teammates. After the practice, Matta praised the work of the junior point guard, who will see an increased role for the Buckeyes in the coming season.
After talking himself up during OSU’s media day, Williams still showed lapses on the offensive end of the floor, continually keeping the ball low on post feeds, leaving himself susceptible to steals from smaller teammates. The 6-11, 250-pound junior did provide some nice finishes on feeds from Craft, but will need to continue to improve and show more toughness to live up to the standard that he set for himself while meeting with the media two weeks ago.
Speaking of the Buckeyes’ post game, Matta expects it to be better this year, one way or another. The OSU coach said that he’s happy with the development of Williams and McDonald as centers, but also noted that some of the team’s forwards and guards can play in the paint and take advantage of smaller opponents with their backs to the basket.
Loving -- the only freshman practicing on Tuesday as guard Kam Williams sat out with mono, which should sideline him for the next two or three weeks -- looked comfortable on the court and has a very natural looking jump shot. Matta said that he likes what he’s seen from the Toledo native and 6-7 forward, especially given his youth and inexperience at the college level. It's too early to tell whether or not Loving will crack the Buckeyes' rotation, but for now he looks like someone who can contribute.
Speaking of smooth shots, Craft’s overhauled jumper has a noticeably quicker release than it did a year ago, and the senior point guard connected on at least one 3-point attempt during his team’s scrimmage. Craft still looked to pass and drive more than he did to take outside shots, but his form on his jumpers has improved and looks less hitch-filled than it has in past years.
Craft also lived up to his billing as a leader, as the Findlay, Ohio native was easily the most vocal Buckeye on the court. Whether he was calling for Loving to be prepared to help him on defense or encouraging Williams to finish plays even after the whistle had blown, there is no doubt as to who Ohio State's leader is this season.
Thompson will be counted on to be a key player this season, and while he didn’t have as many moments as I expected him to on Tuesday, the few that he did have made big impacts. On one end he swatted Loving’s shot attempt to mid-court, coming seemingly out of nowhere, while on the other end he displayed a floater that he hasn’t previously used as an offensive weapon. Thompson still hasn’t reached his potential -- Matta has said he could be one of the best ever to play at OSU -- but he appears to be a big part of the Buckeyes' offense this season.
Also quiet was Ross, who didn’t do much on Tuesday outside of taking a few errant 3-point shots. After the practice, Matta preached the importance of the junior forward being engaged at all times, something that might make or break this year’s Buckeyes, as they are clearly counting on a big season from the Jackson, Miss. native.
The Buckeyes’ scrimmage ended with a buzzer-beating 3-point shot from Della Valle, perhaps a fitting finish for the player who hit a big game-winning shot for the Italian national team in the FIBA Under-20 European Championships.
After practice, Matta spoke to the crowd of more than 1,000 in attendance. The OSU coach touched on a number of topics, saying that a larger than usual premium has been placed on shooting for the Buckeyes this season, and that he thinks Michigan State will be the team to beat in the Big Ten. Matta also stated that while the Buckeyes are short on numbers, he likes the “11 that we got.”
Although there were plenty of promising things from to take away from Tuesday, Matta clearly isn’t satisfied with where his team currently stands. But he knows that it has time -- and more importantly, the potential -- to get there, before taking on Morgan State in less than three weeks.
“Defensively, I think that this could be one of the best teams that we’ve had,” Matta said. “We’ve got a long way to go, as you can tell.”