Photo by Cody Cousino

Life After Craft

In post-Craft Columbus, the status of Ohio State men’s basketball is in flux. Then again, around here, it seems we’re always looking at the back of someone’s jersey, wondering what the next season has in store. Reasonably speaking, expectations should be pretty low. After starting last season 15-0, the Buckeyes closed the season 10-10, going out to 11-seed Dayton in their opening effort of the NCAA Tournament.

For as offensively inept as the team (most) often was, there were some surprising moments: Lenzelle Smith Jr. scoring seven points in the final thirty seconds to rally the team from eight down and bounce Notre Dame; LaQuinton Ross’s season-high 26 against a charging Nebraska team in the Big Ten Tournament; Aaron Craft having a hand in the last nine points scored against Dayton, putting them ahead by one with 17 seconds to go. Moments.

Those three, the three leading scorers on the 208th-ranked scoring offense in college basketball a year ago, are gone. Left behind is a starting lineup that will likely feature four seniors and a bench that will be brimming with youth. It will be a fast team. An athletic team. It will probably be the underdog more often than people in these parts are used to.

So be it. Sneaky good – that’s the best kind.

The non-conference schedule is dotted with three major showdowns against Marquette (home), Louisville (away), and North Carolina (neutral). The conference slate begins (Iowa) and ends (Wisconsin) in Value City Arena and sees one-offs against the conference’s best: Michigan State, Nebraska, and the early favorites, the Badgers.

What lies ahead is fairly unknown. The drastic mix of young and old is probably not what Thad Matta would pick for himself, but he has an interesting roster nonetheless.

forward | 12 | senior
athlete | defender | leader

It’s hard to imagine how this is already Thompson’s senior year. Regardless of the time warp, there’s nothing holding him back this season. He’s a fantastic athlete. He can defend all five positions. He has been known, on occasion, to dunk the basketball. What’s more, he’s smart, and he’s an incredible teammate. With the ball in his hands more, the man they call “Slam” could blossom into a Victor Oladipo-like game-changer.

guard | 3 | senior
defender | speedster | distributor

Scott spent three years as the steady understudy to media darling Aaron Craft. There have been moments over that span when Scott (pictured) has looked every bit the ball hawk that Craft was. Scott will be challenged this year to retain that energy without A.C. there to spur him on. His role on offense is unlikely to change much. He’ll score in transition and work to create offense for others in the half court.

guard | 0 | freshman
ball-handler | distributor | shooter

The book on Russell is that he can both create his own offense and move the ball well enough help his teammates capitalize. He’s an up-and-down combo guard, and a quick one at that. At six-foot-five, this most recent McDonald’s All-American addition is projected to hit the starting five right away and make the offense move. He has NBA-range on his jumper, which will help stretch defenses, but he plays both inside and out. He’s an incredible talent: he should make everyone around him better.

forward | 31 | senior
defensive rebounder | shooter

This will be the first and only year for Lee with the Buckeyes, but it promises to be a good one. The former Temple standout was sought after by many after averaging 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Owls in 2013-14. Despite his size (6-9, 230), he isn’t a tremendous post defender, but in this lineup, that isn’t likely to be asked of him. He will rebound well on the defensive end and help out on offense by providing another face-up shooting option that will further stretch defenses and clear out the lane for the guards and wings to penetrate.

center | 23 | senior
shot-blocker | offensive rebounder

It has, by all reasonable accounts, been a rocky tenure for Williams. Every year it seems he’s poised to break out, yet the light only ever seems to flicker. This season, in a higher tempo offense, he’ll hopefully be able to operate more consistently outside of traditional post requirements.

center | 55 | senior

Early word is that McDonald has shown measurable improvement this offseason. While he probably still won’t start over Williams, he’ll make an argument for it. Assuming Williams remains the same player, expect the two to essentially split time.

forward | 2 | sophomore

Loving came on like a bolt as a freshman, then faded late as Matta shortened his bench. He’s a scorer, much in the same mold as the departed Ross, albeit with a considerably less-natural jumper (from what we’ve seen). Still, he was highly efficient and poised; it’s a good platform to build on.

forward | 33 | freshman

KBD has long arms and an athletic build. He’s wiry, as most freshmen are, but in transition offense, that shouldn’t matter much. He committed almost two years ago, so it’s likely they’ve had him on the right path. He’ll be battle-ready. It will be interesting to see how his role develops as the year wears on.

forward | 1 | freshman

High motor, high energy, and a great athlete. For the time being, he’s the perfect bench player. Some have mentioned a comparison to former Buckeye junkyard dog David Lighty. If Tate is anything close, fans will be delighted.