In one of the more unique roster constructions in the country, Ohio State finds itself playing a rotation that features only one player who is not in his first or last collegiate season. Often lost among the talk of the underachieving senior class that is out to prove itself and a highly-touted freshman class, Buckeye sophomore Marc Loving is quietly having the kind of start to his season that fans of the scarlet and grey were hoping for.
Loving, a former Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio from Toledo St. John, cracked the rotation as the team's lone freshman a season ago. Playing just over ten minutes a game, the 6'7" swingman averaged 4.4 points and 1.7 rebounds. Loving struggled with his shot, hitting at just a 37 percent clip from the field and 26 percent from three-point range. As the season wore on, the seemed the physical rigors of the Big Ten seemed to wear him down.
The experience of his first year at Ohio State was invaluable, though. Loving has scored in double-figures in six of the team's first seven games, looking very much to be the second option on offense.
"I wouldn't say I'm getting more comfortable each game," he said after netting a career high 18 points against Campbell the day before Thanksgiving. "I'm very comfortable."
Loving has been showing an improved shooting stroke, knocking down nearly 60 percent of his shots both from the field and 56 percent from long-range. Back at his natural wing position after mostly seeing time at power forward last season, Loving has also been noticeably more aggressive offensively, settling for jumpers far less often in favor of slashing to the rim. The move to small forward was something he looked forward to prior to the season.
"That's my natural position," he said before the season tipped off. "I'm more comfortable at that position. It will show what I can do, putting me in my natural habitat. It should be fun."
Averaging 12.8 points per game, good for second on the team, the jump in Loving's game thus far into the season hasn't gone unnoticed.
"We've talked to Marc at length about being more aggressive," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "Being more assertive and not taking plays off in terms of being passive."
In a season in which the second best team in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin seems to be a wide open race, the Buckeyes will need their lone sophomore to continue to improve, particularly as conference play gets underway at the end of the month. Given the start to his season, which included 17 points and 5 rebounds on Sunday against Colgate, Loving is beginning to earn the attention of opponents.
"I think Marc Loving is a phenomenal college basketball player," Raiders head coach Matt Langel said after Ohio State's 70-50 victory at Value City Arena. "He's really efficient with what he does. He can stretch a defense, he really knows how to play."