Young Buckeyes still have high hopes
COLUMBUS (AP) — Sam Thompson is an easy-going guy.
The Ohio State swingman smiles a lot, likes talking and has a lot of friends.
But mention that some think this might not be a great Buckeyes team and he clearly grows agitated.
“No. I don’t agree at all,” he said, an edge to his voice. “This is one of the best teams I’ve been on since I’ve been here. It has some competition from my freshman year team just because it went to the Final Four. But we have a great team this year.”
Attempt to replace 57 percent of the points, 66 percent of the 3-pointers, 60 percent of the assists and 55 percent of the steals from most teams and it would be a reasonable expectation that there would be a falloff.
Yet at Ohio State — with starters LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft and top sub Amedeo Della Valle all moving on — there are high hopes.
Here are some things to keep an eye on with the young Buckeyes as they open at home Nov. 14 against UMass-Lowell:
PENCIL IN 20: The Buckeyes, picked third in the Big Ten by reporters, are led by coach Thad Matta. In all 14 of his seasons as a head coach, his teams have won at least 20 games.
And Matta likes this 2014-15 club.
“It’s an interesting collection of guys,” he said. “In terms of the expectations, I don’t know if I have it set in stone what I’m expecting. There’s going to be a growth period, but we have to accelerate the growth. We have to push guys. We always tell guys going into (a season), ‘Those that don’t get onboard get left behind.”’
LOTS OF BODIES: The Buckeyes have two returning starters: 6-foot-7 dunking machine Thompson and enigmatic 6-11 post Amir Williams. Shannon Scott steps right in at the point in place of whirling-dervish Craft. Anthony Lee, who graduated from Temple early and is playing his final season of eligibility with the Buckeyes, will likely be the power forward.
Rotating into those spots and the fifth starting spot will be freshmen D’Angelo Russell, Jae’Sean Tate, David Bell, Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams along with last year’s sixth man Marc Loving, and backup big man Trey McDonald.
WHERE THE POINTS ARE: The Buckeyes lost their top three scorers. Still, for most of last year it seemed four players stood around and watched Ross — who led the team with 15.2 points per game — play one-on-five when they needed a basket.
“We have a well-balanced group,” said Loving, who started fast and then fizzled a year ago as a freshman. “Shannon and Sam can score, you can throw the ball into Amir. We have a lot of weapons and you really have to pick your poison of who you want to stop.”
One guess: Russell, a gifted scorer as a prepster in Louisville, Kentucky, will provide some of the punch, along with classmate Tate, the son of former Buckeye center Jermaine Tate.
94-FOOT PRESSURE: The Buckeyes, who went 25-10 last year and got knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round by Dayton, relied on the physical play of Craft to set the tempo on defense.
This figures to be a far more athletic team that can press and run all over the court.
“Our defense is probably the best in the Big Ten, I would say,” Williams said. “I feel like everyone can defend their position, and multiple positions.”
That should give Matta more flexibility and allow for more trapping.
UNFAMILIAR FACES: Thompson, Williams and Scott have played a lot but have frequently been hidden in the shadow of bigger names such as Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Ross and Craft.
If no one knows much about the current Buckeyes, that’s fine with them.
“From my junior, sophomore and freshman years, we’d be hearing so much about Buckeye basketball, what we’re going to bring to the table and all that stuff,” Scott said. “I haven’t really heard that much about it this year. Personally, I’m kind of a fan of that. We can just go out on the court now and play our game and prove everybody wrong. So it’s going to be fun for us.”
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Ohio State’s 2014-15 Men’s basketball schedule
All times Eastern
Nov. 9, Walsh (exhibition), 4 p.m.
Nov. 14, UMass-Lowell, 7 p.m.
Nov. 18, Marquette, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 23, Sacred Heart (Buckeye Classic), 7 p.m.
Nov. 26, Campbell (Buckeye Classic), 7 p.m.
Nov. 28, James Madison (Buckeye Classic), 4 p.m.
Dec. 2, at Louisville (ACC/Big Ten Challenge), 9:30 p.m.
Dec. 6, Colgate (Buckeye Classic), 4:30 p.m.
Dec. 10, High Point, 7 p.m.
Dec. 13, Morehead St. (at Nationwide Arena), 1 p.m.
Dec. 17, North Carolina A&T, 7 p.m.
Dec. 20, vs. North Carolina (CBS Sports Classic, Chicago), 1 p.m.
Dec. 22, Miami (Ohio), 6 p.m.
Dec. 27, Wright St., TBA
Dec. 30, Iowa (BT), 1 p.m.
Jan. 3, Illinois (BT), noon/6:30 p.m.
Jan. 6, at Minnesota (BT), 9 p.m.
Jan. 10, at Indiana (BT), noon/1 p.m.
Jan. 13, Michigan (BT), 7 p.m.
Jan. 17, at Iowa (BT), 2 p.m.
Jan. 22, at Northwestern (BT), 7 p.m.
Jan. 25, Indiana (BT), 1:30 p.m.
Jan. 29, Maryland (BT), 7 p.m.
Feb. 4, at Purdue (BT), 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 8, at Rutgers (BT), 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 11, Penn St. (BT), 7 p.m.
Feb. 14, at Michigan St. (BT), noon
Feb. 22, at Michigan (BT), 1/3/5:15 p.m.
Feb. 26, Nebraska (BT), 7 p.m.
March 1, Purdue (BT), 4/7:30 p.m.
March 4, at Penn St. (BT), 6 p.m.
March 8, Wisconsin (BT), 4:30/7:30 p.m.
March 11-15, Big Ten Tournament, Chicago