Ohio State's frontcourt this year will look drastically different from last year now that Deshaun Thomas, a unanimous all-Big Ten team selection, is gone. That means the Buckeyes will rely on some untested players to fill the void, both in scoring and rebounding. Will they be able to handle the arduous and physical journey through the Big Ten?
There really isn't much debate as to who will be starting in the frontcourt. Unless unforeseen changes occur, Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross will occupy the forward spots, and Amir Williams will be at center. That stability could be an advantage, since all three of them have known their role in the frontcourt since Deshaun Thomas declared for the draft. They won't have any worries in preseason as to who will start, and they can all mentally prepare for the workload of a full season. Then again, that's just a nice way of saying that they basically have no depth. But the glass is half-full down here at BTP.
Sam Thompson should inspire the most confidence in Buckeye fans as he is a known quantity up front. He's excellent defensively, finishing second on the team in blocks and steals. His 6'7" frame is perfect for both disrupting passing lanes and throwing block parties in the paint, but his athleticism is his greatest asset. Not only can he throw down flashy slams, he's never lazy on the defensive end (just like this guy). He only played 25.1 minutes per game last season, and will be called upon to play much more this season. If he can improve on creating his own shot, the Buckeyes will be very pleased with his contributions.
We know less about LaQuinton Ross, but boy does he have an opportunity to shine this year. I wrote previously about how his stats from last year look a whole lot like Deshaun Thomas' numbers in his freshman year. Now for Ross to replace Thomas is a bold and unlikely prediction because they play such different styles. Ross plays with much more finesse offensively, compared to Thomas' rough-and-tumble isolation game. So look for Ohio State to either spread out on offense to give room for Ross to operate in space, or for Ross to improve his low-post game. But he's the same guy who came up huge in last year's tournament by averaging 17.6 points per game and delivered a dagger to Arizona.
Laquinton Ross Game Winner vs Arizona HD (via NuttyBuddy208)
You've seen that shot a thousand times and so have I, because it's awesome. LaQuinton Ross has plenty of momentum to carry over to this upcoming season, and it will be fun to see him improve. Let's just hope he's on his best behavior this season.
And then there's Amir Williams. This is truly a make-or-break year for him. No longer will Thomas or Evan Ravenel be there to bail him out when he makes a mental mistake. He's basically their only hope at center and they will rely on him to help pick up the rebounding slack. The thing is, he's been a pretty abysmal rebounder so far. He's 6'11" and 250 pounds, but only averaged 3.9 rebounds per game last year. What's even worse is that he picked some pretty big games to not rebound. If you look game-by-game, he pulled down only 4 rebounds a piece in both Michigan games, as well as a 3 rebound effort against Michigan State. That can't happen this year. He's been vocal during media day about his new repertoire of post moves and his commitment to consistency, which is certainty promising. His development as an all-around player will dictate how far the Buckeyes go this year.
Yeesh. That's a good question. They return two juniors in Jake Lorbach and Trey McDonald, but those two combined for a grand total of 148 minutes total last year. Other than some sweet tats, Lorbach won't contribute much this year. However, he hit some big free throws late in the game against Iona last year, so you know he'll be called on in big games with little time left (just kidding). Trey McDonald measures up at a sturdy 6'8", and actually helped out last year. He played more and more as the season progressed, and pulled down 6 rebounds against Wisconsin. His number will be called if Amir Williams struggles, so hopefully he won't be seeing too many meaningful minutes.
They do have a promising recruit in Marc Loving who could provide some much-needed depth down low. The 2013 Ohio Mr. Basketball is the all-time scoring and rebounding leader at his high school, and could be a nice compliment to LaQuinton Ross off the bench. He's very raw and hasn't learned how to use his physicality in the lane, but his long arms will make for some fun blocks. Look for him to slowly join the rotation throughout his career.
Biggest Question: Is Amir Williams Ready?
I really hope so. He can block shots very well and will only improve in that facet. But offensively, he's very limited. The fact that this Buckeye team will score by committee, rather than relying on one guy, could help him. There will be more ball movement, and Williams could benefit from that with some easy buckets at the rim. Rebounding and foul trouble are still major concerns that could continue to hold back his development. Don't expect Hakeem Olajuwon this year, but he could easily become more efficient and less prone to mistakes.
This will be the weakest part of Ohio State basketball this year. At least it appears that way today. LaQuinton Ross could bust out and become a Naismith candidate, and Amir Williams could finally cement his role as a consistent contributor. Depth will be a major issue, and it will be interesting to see Thad Matta balance the rotations. Deshaun Thomas will surely be missed down low.
Just be thankful for Aaron Craft.