“Do you know how I got into coaching?… Well, my first job out of college was a greeter at Wal-Mart. I think I might have been the only greeter in the history of the company who was younger than 95, but whatever. I made what I thought was decent money, and it was easy work. Until one day this fat, ugly bitch of a woman came into the store with her two kids. She was cussing at them, and I even saw her smack one of the kids in the face as they were walking in. Just the worst mother and one of the worst people I’ve ever seen in my life. So when she came in, I decided I’d put her in her place. I said hello, told her that her kids were adorable, and asked her if they were twins. She looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘Are you blind or just retarded? Of course they aren’t twins. What the hell would make you think that they were twins?’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but I just couldn’t figure out why in the world someone would want to screw you twice.'” – Thad Matta
This was the moment that I took the next step as a Buckeye basketball fan. When Mark Titus put this story into his book, I instantly went from a lifelong die-hard Michigan State fan who attended Ohio State to a loyal Thad Matta Ohio State basketball fan. I thought, if this guy is running the basketball program, I am all in. I digress.
Now that you’ve heard that story, let’s talk about the 2013-’14 Ohio State hoops team. You would think that with Urban and the football team on a 21 game win streak I would be more inclined to push basketball aside and pour my heart onto the field and not the court. Well F that.
The Buckeye basketball team has always taken a back seat to football. It has always been the case and as long as football doesn’t turn into two-hand touch, it will continue to be the case as long as we live. The hoops squad is always solid, but hasn’t seen a championship caliber team since the Thad 5 came and went in 2006. We always make noise in the B1G tournament and always put up a fight in the NCAA tournament, but never really have much success. Everybody just sits and watches as the Bucks cruise to an impressive regular season record, but make little to-do about Thad and his boys.
Well this year has a different feel for me. I’ve got high hopes for this team within a stacked B1G conference, and you should too. Watch out for these 10 stories lines throughout the year…
10) Who are Kam Williams and Marc Loving?
They are the Buckeyes’ two recruits for this season. They are by no means big name stars, but neither are they low name scrubs. Kam’s a silky two-guard with a nice looking shot. From looking at some tape, you can tell that he could be a stud one day, but the question will be how much he can contribute immediately. We know that scoring has been a problem in the past for Thad’s teams and I’m hoping Kam can fill a void at some point. Marc loving is Ohio’s Mr. Basketball, which may or may not be saying much relatively speaking. He’s a 6’7″ twig forward but he can also put the ball in the hoop. In the plans for this year? Not sure yet.
9) What will turn into the best lineup at the end of the year?
Last year we saw a wide variety of lineups filter in an out throughout the year. But, last year the team had DT, Mr. 25 shots a game. That allowed Thad to put four defenders around him at all times and not lack scoring. We saw Craft, Scott, Thompson and Amir all on the floor together. Then, we saw Craft, Sam, Lenzelle, LaQuinton and Deshaun all come out together. What is the common area in those two lineups? Deshaun is in both lineups: the team could afford to suck on offense.
Now that Deshaun is out, how will Thad vary the lineup? Is the best 5 going to be Craft, Sam, Lenzelle, Amir and Q? Is it going to turn into Craft, Scott, Sam, Q and Amir? The lineup is always changing, but besides Craft and Q, the rest of the lineup is bound to develop and change from day one to March Madness.
8) Can Mr. Social Media, ADV, play defense and see the floor?
If there was a running for most noticeable person on campus, the finalists would be Urban, Gordon Gee, Braxton, Craft and Amedeo Della Valle. This dude is the face of the hoops squad: the loveable goofball that everybody knows for his mop top and Italian style. He could be comparable to Mark Titus… except for that he is here to play. Ame’s a pure shooter and is coming off of a huge summer, where his under 20 Italian National team won the Euro championship and he was the MVP. One thing still remains to be seen, though: Can he play defense? If the answer is yes, he can be a tremendous X-factor and provide legitimate scoring off of the bench this year for the Bucks.
7) How far has Aaron Craft’s jump shot come?
“If I had to pick one player in the country to start a college program with, it would be Aaron Craft”– Dan Dakich of ESPN
At the end of the season and into the postseason last year, Craft turned into a 13+ points a night guy and a surprising scoring threat that teams had to guard. We all know Aaron for being the best on ball defender in college basketball, maybe in the last decade. His leadership and work ethic are just about the only guarantee that this Ohio State team has. What I want to know is how far along his jump shot has come. Much like Amedeo’s defensive improvement, I want to see if there is any consistency in Craft’s shot this year. This team goes as far as he does.
6) Can this team defensively match up with the likes of MSU, Kentucky, Kansas and Duke…
Thad was quoted saying the other day that this team might be the best defensive team that he has ever coached. That is saying something coming from Matta’s mouth. I understand that every coach likes to talk up their team before the season… but I believe it. Craft and Scott are the most feared two-guard punch defensively out of anybody in the country. Sam Thompson is a freak athlete and Amir Williams might as well not even come down to the offensive end of the court. The defensive potential is there, but is it enough to match up with the best of the best? That is something that I want to keep an eye on. Can they shut down Adrien Payne? Can they stop an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker when it comes time? We will see…
5) Amir Williams and Trey McDonald
I feel like Thad is trying so hard to try and get these two to show up and play consistent minutes at a high level. As a fan, though, I’m trying hard to just keep my patience with these two. Have you seen Amir’s stats from last season?
15.5 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.4 BPG
In a starters role, those numbers have to improve dramatically this year or it is next man up. Amir is a great defensive presence, but his offense is lacking terribly. I felt like during the Michigan game last year, I found myself yelling “THANK YOU” at the TV about 3 different times because I finally saw something in Amir offensively. I want to see more this year. I need to see more this year.
On another note, Trey McDonald is a Junior and is in the same boat as Amir. Gimme some good bench minutes Trey!
4) This is it for Lenzelle, what does he do?
I’ve always been skeptical of Lenzelle Smith Jr. but somehow I always tend to find myself at the back end thinking of how he is trash. You know what? I hope I’m wrong. Lenzelle is a senior now and he knows that last year was not his best. When the Bucks made a run two years ago, Lenzelle was a key factor. Last year, he took a step back and found himself getting benched for the defensively superior Shannon Scott and the more athletic Sam Thompson. He knows that this year if he does not perform it is next man up and he is out. I want to see how he responds. Lenzelle is a senior leader of this team and has quite a few notches on his belt. Is it finally time we see an All Big Ten year out of him?
3) Slammy T: Improves to 13 PPG, 6 RPG
This is my bold/not so bold prediction. Sam is a freak of an athlete and, along with Smith, hails from Chicago, so you know we’ve got to hype him up. I remember coming home one Friday night in high school and seeing a picture on Facebook of Sam Thompson with his nuts in somebody’s face about to dunk on them. Literally, Sam’s nuts were draped all over this dude’s eyeballs. We’ve seen Same elevate over the best game in and game out, and I’m ready to see him take the next step. I want to see Sam Thompson, the scorer instead of Sam Thompson, the dunker. He made big strides last year and this year is the year he makes a big jump.
2) Can Q replace Deshaun?
This is a simple one. Laquinton showed last year in the tournament that he has the ability to lead this team to the Final Four. What I want to see is him do it every night. The talent is there. The athleticism is there. The size is there. How hard did he work this offseason to make sure he is an All-American come April?
1) Final Four or Bust
Last year left a bad taste in my mouth. The Bucks got the Golden Ticket to the Final Four and lost to Witchita State. Nothing against Witchita State, but Ohio State looked completely unprepared and played like it was a regular season game in November. I personally do not think that this team lost anything by losing Deshaun. He is automatic offense but he took terrible shots and ruined the flow of our offense. This team has all of the talent to make it to Dallas. What makes this Ohio State team different than any other, though, is the experience. There are only 3 scholarship players who are sophomores or younger. The rest of the team has been to the Elite 8 in the past two years, and has won two B1G championships. You can’t teach talent, but you also can’t beat experience. The freshman class is nice, but I will take these guys who have been there before.