Ohio State's frontcourt received some much-needed reinforcements in the offseason thanks to a pair of transfers and an intriguing newcomer. Though head coach Thad Matta's rotation of big men is likely to only include three players, the competition is already evident.
"It's been really competitive over the summer and over the past few weeks with guys just pushing each other to get better," center Amir Williams said at Ohio State's media day. "We know we have to help lead our team this year if we want to be successful, so we get on each other every day. Everyone is trying to get an edge and pushing each other to be the best that we can be."
Williams is one of the trio of seniors expected to be a presence in the paint for the Buckeyes this season. We conclude our positional preview of Ohio State with a look at the big guys that will be expected to patrol the paint.
Last season, the Buckeyes basically had only Williams and Trey McDonald to play in the frontcourt. While both have size, neither was the kind of threat on the offensive end or the boards to make fans of the scarlet and grey forget about Jared Sullinger. This year, Matta will have three seniors and a little more versatility to work with in his big men thanks to transfer Anthony Lee.
Anthony Lee - As we have written previously at BT Powerhouse, Lee brings something to the table that the Buckeyes have not had the past couple of seasons: a big man with the ability to score. After averaging 13.6 points per game at Temple as a junior, the 6'9" stretch four will be relied upon to be a weapon inside and out with the ball in his hands. Lee will also be expected to give the Buckeyes an advantage on the glass, as his 8.6 rebounds per game a season ago would have far and away led the team.
The expectations are not lost on the Columbia, Maryland native.
"I am ecstatic to hear they need me at my position," Lee said at media day. "The environment captured me and we are ready to take on the season."
Amir Williams - Williams has shown flashes over the past three season of the athleticism that made him a four-star recruit and McDonald's All-American coming out of high school, but has yet to prove he can really impact a game on a consistent basis. Starting every game at center and logging the fifth-most minutes on the team as a junior, Williams averaged just 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds, numbers he knows must improve.
"I've just been getting in the gym and continuing to work on moves that I didn't feel like I did very well last season to improve my shooting percentage," Williams said.
The 6'11" Detroit native did show the ability to alter shots last season, averaging 1.8 blocks per game, which was fourth in the Big Ten. Still, focus and consistency have long been the question with Williams, and his production has not caught up to his physical gifts in his first three years in Columbus. Playing alongside Lee should open more room underneath and provide help on the boards, allowing him space to operate.
Trey McDonald - McDonald is the oft-forgotten fifth member of Matta's highly-touted 2011 recruiting class, and ESPN's Dan Dakich has voiced his opinion several times that the Battle Creek, Michigan native should have redshirted his first year in Columbus. McDonald is a big body off the bench with a high motor and a limited skillset. As a junior, he appeared in every game, averaging 2 points and just under 2 rebounds in 12 minutes a night. The 6'8", 240-pound big man has a very clearly-defined role: bring energy, grab boards, and be physical with opposing post players. That role should not change much in McDonald's senior season, as he will not likely see a significant increase in minutes.
Two other frontcourt players are on the roster in 6'11" sophomore Trevor Thompson and 6'10" freshman David Bell. Thompson is already slated to sit out the season after transferring from Virginia Tech, and it would seem likely that Bell, a raw talent from Garfield Heights, Ohio, will follow with a redshirt of his own as he gets acclimated to the college game. Thompson and Bell are likely to figure prominently in Ohio State's plans next season, after the departure of the seniors, and will have a year in the program under their belts.
Overall Grade: B-
Lee certainly brings a new dimension to Ohio State's front line, and early reviews from preseason practice have been overwhelmingly positive. The transfer brings a polished post game and the ability to knock down face-up jumpers, and is a definite upgrade to Matta's big men. Williams may be primed for a breakout season running alongside Lee, but the Buckeyes have been waiting for him to assert himself since he stepped on campus. If the Buckeyes can get the kind of production from Lee that many are predicting, this could be the most improved position group on the team.