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2015-16 Big Ten Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes Backcourt

Kam Williams is back, but a lot of new faces join him in Ohio State's backcourt. Will it be enough to offset the losses of D'Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All last season, the majority of the headlines regarding Ohio State basketball were about All-American freshman guard D'Angelo Russell. He had a phenomenal season, but the Buckeyes as a whole underachieved. After Russell left for the NBA and Shannon Scott was lost to graduation (the two combined for 27.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 10.9 assists, and 3.3 steals per game), Thad Matta had to retool his backcourt.

With only Kam WIlliams returning, Ohio State's backcourt will feature a young but talented core. Let's take a look at who will likely be a part of Matta's rotation.

Kam Williams

The lone returning guard for Ohio State had a limited role as a freshman. Playing just 14.3 minutes per game, Williams averaged 5.4 points with 45/35/91 shooting splits. With all the talent that is coming in, a big jump is needed from Williams if he wants to lock down the starting shooting guard spot. Considering all of the shooting coming in (I'll get to that in a minute), Williams really needs to improve on that 35 percent clip in order for Matta to give him more minutes.

JaQuan Lyle

Lyle is the guy tapped to fill Russell's shoes. The 6'5" combo guard probably won't have the ball in his hands quite as much as Russell did, but will be a huge part of Ohio State's offense. Like Williams, Lyle's jump shot needs to improve for the Buckeyes to have any sort of spacing on offense. In his senior campaign at Huntington Prep (W.V.), Lyle averaged 17.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 4.2 steals per game. He initially signed with Oregon, but had academic issues and spent last season playing for Brandenton (Florida) IMG Academy.

Lyle was a huge get for the Buckeyes, and both Matta and Lyle's teammates are excited to have him aboard. Sophomore wing Jae'Sean Tate had this to say: "I was definitely excited when we got him. That's another big guard. Like D'Angelo, he is like 6'5". What he brings to the table, he sees the floor. It's just one of those talents like D'Angelo. You either have it or you don't. He can also score and shoot."

Austin Grandstaff

I've already written about Grandstaff at length, and I'm pretty much just going to repeat a lot of things I've already said (for my full piece on Grandstaff, click here). Grandstaff is a freshman, and is one of the best shooters in his class. As a senior, he led Rockwall High School (Texas) in scoring with 29 points per game, and even dropped 50 in a game.

Grandstaff will likely start the season coming off the bench, backing up Williams. However, it would not be surprising to see Grandstaff play his way into the starting lineup before season's end.

Because he has a silky-smooth shooting motion, Grandstaff is sometimes unfairly labeled "just a shooter". But Grandstaff is much more than that. He can score in a variety of ways: spotting up, coming of screens, slashing to the basket, and using a high screen and roll. Grandstaff didn't play on a great team in high school (Rockwall was just 12-17 last season), and that negatively affected his shooting numbers.

As a guy who was often both a primary ball handler and primary scorer, Grandstaff constantly had to deal with multiple defenders at once. With that in mind, his 40/33/79 shooting splits don't mean that he can't shoot the ball well--and it's actually pretty impressive considering the circumstances.

At Ohio State, Grandstaff will rarely be the first priority for opposing defenses. With time and space to operate, he can provide instant offense off the bench. Think of Grandstaff as a more athletic Jon Diebler. He is lethal from behind the arc (with NBA range), but far from a one-trick pony. He's a one-man zone-buster, and an expert at using screens against a man-to-man look.

AJ Harris

Harris is the only pure point guard on the roster, and by default figures to get a lot of minutes at the position (possibly splitting time with Lyle). He stands at just 5'9", and as you might expect from a player of his stature, Harris is incredibly quick. Harris was a first-team All-Ohio selection after averaging 18.9 points, 5.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.1 steals per game at Dunbar (Ohio) High School (the same school that produced former Buckeye Daequan Cook).

Offensively, Harris' passing ability is going to help immensely, and defensively, Harris is an absolute pest. Expect Harris to harass opposing point guards in a sort of one-man press to generate as many turnovers and easy baskets for Ohio State as possible.

The Verdict

The losses of Russell and Scott are clearly significant, but it's not as though Matta will have no talent to work with. Williams should blossom in an expended role, Lyle will be a star, and Grandstaff and Harris should be valuable contributors off the bench. Much like this Ohio State team as a whole, the Buckeye backcourt will surprise a lot of people.