It was painfully obvious to anyone who followed the Ohio State basketball team in the 2013-14 season the days of Greg Oden, Jared Sullinger and even Kosta Koufos down low were in the rearview mirror.
The Buckeyes finished 216th in the country in total rebounds per game and struggled to defend or score against opponents with strong and physical frontcourts. Ultimately, the scarlet and gray went home after one game in the NCAA tournament.
If Thad Matta has plans on making it further into the postseason this year, he is going to need more production from his big men. Ohio State lost a ton of talent in the backcourt but returns the majority of its centers and power forwards. Whether that is necessarily a good thing or not remains to be seen.
Amir Williams has been the mainstay for years down low and averaged 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season. However, those numbers are inflated because of his performances during the soft nonconference portion of the schedule. Williams only scored in double figures four times in the entire Big Ten season and failed to score a single point in the tournament loss to Dayton.
Williams was a bit better as a junior than a sophomore, so there is some reason for optimism heading into his last year.
He blocked nearly two shots per game in 2013-14 and is a solid defender. Williams is never going to be an offensive force, but if he can continue to improve on the defensive side and at least finish with consistency around the basket, it can be a productive season.
Trey McDonald will also be back in Columbus, but at this point in his career, he is simply an extra body to play minutes in case there is foul trouble. Yes, McDonald occasionally grabs a couple of rebounds or scores on a putback on the offensive end, but Buckeye fans will likely be disappointed if they hope for more than that.
There is reason for optimism, though, when it comes to Marc Loving as a returning stretch forward.
Loving averaged just more than four points per game as a freshman, but he showed flashes of his potential at times, including when he scored eight critical points in crunch time in an otherwise ugly victory at Illinois. He has a smooth jump shot, is a solid rebounder and is capable of attacking the rim off the dribble.
Will Marc Loving start as a sophomore?
Loving arrived on campus as a highly regarded recruit but didn’t produce like it in his first season. Part of that is because LaQuinton Ross was the team’s leading scorer and played the majority of the minutes every game in Loving’s position. With Ross heading to the NBA, Loving will have every opportunity to succeed as a sophomore.
While much is expected from Loving this year, what about the newcomers in the frontcourt?
Transfer Trevor Thompson has to sit out a year, so he is not an option in 2014-15. We are also considering incoming freshmen Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate small forwards for the purposes of this article, although Matta will likely go small at times with one or both of those recruits.
David Bell is the resident big man in Ohio State’s 2014 recruiting class, but he is seen as more of a long-term project than an immediate contributor. Even Bell himself thinks that, via Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com:
“Because I know I am a project. All I do all day I work so I can get better and hopefully turn into something great at Ohio State. But I know I have a lot to learn and a lot to get better at before I am on that level.”
Bell could be redshirted this season, but the hope is he one day turns into the rebounding and defensive machine Dallas Lauderdale was at one point. That would be a project well done.
One reason Bell may redshirt is because of the presence of Temple transfer Anthony Lee.
LostLettermen.com was particularly impressed with the addition of Lee, especially considering the void left over by Ross’ departure:
Wow, Ohio State lands Anthony Lee from Temple. Can play immediately. HUGE get by Thad Matta after losing LaQuinton Ross.— LostLettermen.com (@LostLettermen) March 29, 2014
Lee has double-double potential every time he steps on the floor and averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last year. He is capable of starting alongside Williams as a power forward or serving as the center in a smaller lineup (Lee is listed at 6’9”).
Lee will be Ohio State’s best big-man scoring option since Sullinger and plays the type of defense that will endear him to Matta’s system.
Of course, if Myles Turner surprises everyone and chooses to become a Buckeye, the entire outlook of the frontcourt would change.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Lee’s presence makes Ohio State one of the top teams in the Big Ten given the litany of talented guards heading to campus as part of the 2014 recruiting class.
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