When the bell tolled on the Ohio State basketball season at the hands of the Dayton Flyers in the first round of the NCAA tournament, much of the discussion and criticism focused on the team's inability to shoot from the perimeter with any consistency, and rightfully so. What was often overlooked in those arguments, though, was how the Buckeyes' shooting woes were a direct effect of the team's lack of frontcourt depth and anemic post production.
As the program moved forward into the post-Aaron Craft era, addressing the big man problem was job number one, and Thad Matta and his staff worked hard to bolster the front line. Their work paid off in a big way, as Ohio State landed commitments from two of the most sought-after transfer players in the country in Anthony Lee and Trevor Thompson.
While Thompson will likely have to sit out a year before putting on the scarlet and grey, Lee is eligible immediately, and figures to be inserted right into the starting lineup next fall. The 6'9" power forward from Temple brings something to Columbus that hasn't been seen since Jared Sullinger took his talents to the NBA: a big man capable of scoring.
Lee averaged 13.6 points per game for the Owls in his junior season, and will be expected to carry a large part of the scoring load for a Buckeyes team that will look very different next season. The coaching staff's expectations for Lee's offensive game were a large part in his choosing Ohio State over the likes of Indiana, Louisville, Iowa State, and Notre Dame.
"[Coach Matta's] going to use me as a stretch forward inside and out," Lee stated when interviewed after the decision. "Coach Matta was showing me footage of Jared Sullinger and Kosta Koufus and told me he needed me to do that. He saw clips of me doing that in flashes, but he wanted me to do it consistently."
It remains to be seen if Lee can shoulder the burden of being the first or second scoring option for a team, as he sometimes displayed trouble with footwork in the post and an inconsistent jump shot at Temple. For the season, his shooting percentage was 49.5%, and his true shooting percentage of 52.5% is on the low side for a big man expected to score.
"I shot a lot more this year," Lee said. "At times on offense, I wasn't really being looked at to shoot. There would be times when I shot it where I wasn't really in the flow."
Considering the scoring contributions Ohio State received from its bigs this past season, Lee should be an upgrade regardless of efficiency. But where his impact may really be felt is on the glass. As a junior, Lee averaged 8.6 rebounds a game, and over 37 percent of those came on the offensive boards. Teamed with Amir Williams, who averaged 5.8 rebounds a game, and the hope for increased production on the glass from the likes of Marc Loving and Sam Thompson, the Buckeyes could see a big boost in retrieving the ball.
Lee is also seen as a slightly above average defender, though he is not really a rim protector. He averaged just under a block a game for the Owls and has had trouble staying out of foul trouble throughout his career. His fit in Matta's defensive scheme and his ability to stay on the floor will go a long way towards determining the impact he has on the team, but along with Williams and Trey McDonald, provides physicality to wear down opponents underneath.
Ultimately, Lee's enthusiasm and experience should benefit Ohio State immensely, especially as Matta takes on the task of meshing a highly-touted recruiting class with an otherwise veteran team.
"They were saying that they wanted me to be that number one guy with the experience and leadership I had," Lee said. "I'm just excited to get started for the season. I'm really amped up to play again, and to be in front of a crowd every night is something I'm excited for because I love playing in environments like that."
As the Buckeyes make the transition to life without Craft, that experience and enthusiasm are sorely needed. The potential for Lee to be the scoring big man Ohio State has been missing the past two seasons is also critical, and could be the difference between another quick exit next March and the kind of deep run that fans of the program have become accustomed to.