When LaQuinton Ross decided to forego his senior season at Ohio State to turn pro last spring, he took with him team-highs in scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg), leaving a hole that head coach Thad Matta will have to fill. Luckily for the Buckeyes, they return experience at the wing, and are also bringing in a pair of talented freshmen that will vie for playing time. Matta is not afraid to play small lineups, and he loves versatile players that can match up defensively with several different positions. This season's group of wings should be able to do just that.
"We have worked hard to integrate the new players so they mesh well and challenge the returning players to work and fight for their spot," Matta said at Ohio State's media day.
The fight for minutes and stockpile of talent on the wing can only be a good thing for Ohio State as it ramps up for the season opener on November 14th. We continue our positional preview of the Buckeyes with a look at the players vying for the chance to help replace Ross' production.
With the transfer of stretch four Anthony Lee from Temple, it is expected that only one true wing will be in the starting lineup when the season tips off. That said, plenty will see minutes when Matta plays Lee at the five and goes small.
Sam Thompson - Among the most athletic players in the country and a prolific leaper, the 6'7" Chicago native has become well known for his highlight reel finishes at the rim. As he enters his final year in Columbus, though, Ohio State needs Thompson to be a more complete player on both sides of the ball. After averaging 7.9 points and 2.7 rebounds per game as a junior, there is a lot of room for improvement. Thompson is expected to be a leader on this team, and he knows it.
"This year, we don't have William Buford and Aaron Craft, so it's really on us to take on that role and be leaders on this team," he said at media day. "We've been in the program for four years so we have a big leadership role coming up, but we're looking forward to it."
While Thompson is expected to start, three other players should see minutes on the wing for the Buckeyes. Between them, they have combined to play just 380 minutes of college basketball, so youth is being served. The maturation of a returning former Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio and a pair of freshmen will determine whether the depth Ohio State appears to have on paper will translate once the games begin to mean something.
Marc Loving - To say Loving had an up and down freshman campaign for the Buckeyes might be a bit of an understatement. The only rookie on the active roster, the former Mr. Basketball from Toledo had an encouraging amount of highlights, but also a decent number of lowlights. As his minutes increase as a sophomore, Loving will be looking to improve upon the 4.4 points and 1.7 rebounds a game he contrbuted last season and showcasing his ability to play inside and out on offense. Increasing his consistency on both ends of the floor, particularly in shooting the basketball and crashing the boards, could make Loving the first man off the bench for Matta.
Keita Bates-Diop - A skilled forward with an advanced game along the baseline, the wiry Bates-Diop excels at slashing to the basket and spotting up for corner threes. The Illinois native led Ohio State in scoring during its summer trip to the Bahamas, averaging 17 points in the two contests, so it appears he hasn't been phased by the transition to the college game. 6'7" and long, Bates-Diop can play multiple positions, and showed the ability to wreak havoc on the boards and in blocking shots during high school. The biggest question will be if the four-star recruit's 190-pound frame can withstand the physical nature of the Big Ten.
Jae'Sean Tate - Fans of former Ohio State "glue guys" like David Lighty and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. are going to love Tate. The top prospect in Ohio in his class, Tate gives the much sought-after 110% every minute he is on the floor, proving to be a handful driving to the basket, on the glass, and on the defensive end.
The knock on Tate is that he is undersized for a wing, and his physical style of play is actually better suited to a power forward. He also had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder back in February, but was cleared for contact in August and got nearly thirty minutes of playing time under his belt in the Bahamas.
"He's a warrior. He's a winner," Matta said of Tate. "I've constantly said this: ‘I don't know what position he is.' He's a David Lighty. I love all the things he can bring to the table."
Overall Grade: C+
Given Thompson's inconsistency throughout his career at Ohio State and the largely unknown impact Loving, Bates-Diop, and Tate will have, I can't grade this group any better than a C+ right now. But, the potential is there for this to be the most impactful, dynamic, versatile, deep position group the Buckeyes have. By the time we're gearing up for March Madness, the wings may have upped their grade significantly.