The Big Ten Network recently released their preseason basketball predictions, rankings and award winners for the upcoming season, and to the chagrin of Buckeye enthusiasts, it's not looking to be a stellar year in Columbus. Ohio State is coming off a 24-11 season a year ago that ended in a third round NCAA tournament loss to Arizona. The Buckeyes were led by do-it-all freshman sensation D'Angelo Russell, and will be in dire need of finding replacements by committee in order to replicate last season's success.
The 2015 roster is stockpiled with underclassmen which could cause for roller coaster ride for the young squad and its fans. With a plethora of young, inexperienced players comes the wide-eyed enthusiasm and willingness to soak in knowledge from coaches and upperclassmen. For guards and big men alike, the player who could be looked at for a leadership role in 2015 is junior small forward Marc Loving.
Predicting the starting lineup for the Buckeyes in 2015 is the closest example of an inexact science imaginable due to the versatility and interchangeable parts on offense. At small forward, Marc Loving appears to have a grasp on the starting spot. At 6'8, 215 pounds, Loving has ideal size for perimeter play and will have the green light on the wing as the elder statesman.
Loving will look to bounce back from an abysmal end to his sophomore campaign, which was ignited by a three-game suspension for multiple violations of marijuana use and failed drug tests. Loving averaged 11.68 points per game in 22 games before the suspension, and scored in double figures in 16 of those games. After being allowed back to the court, Loving only scored in double figures once out of the remaining 12 regular season and tournament games combined.
With D'Angelo Russell at the helm, and his suspension last year, Loving's stats don't look too impressive. Loving is a very capable three point shooter, and will should have free reign to increase his three pointers attempted number this season. Shooting at a 45% clip last season on only three attempts per game, look for Loving's shooting volume to increase without any significant drop off on his shooting percentage.
Sophomore Keita Bates-Diop appears to be the leading candidate for back-up small forward minutes, and could very well slide into the starting lineup with any more antics from Loving. Bates-Diop offers tremendous three point shooting and length on defense that makes him a viable option for this year's sixth man. The 6'7, 230-pound forward shot an impressive 46% from three point land last season, and could replicate that success this year after an offseason to enhance shooting mechanics.
True freshman Mickey Mitchell could be used as another back-up at small forward due to his size and perimeter skills. Mitchell is one of those players who offers coach Matta and his staff an interchangeable lineup. The 6'7 freshman can play both forward positions comfortably, and could see extended minutes if he shows he is fully healed from his torn ACL in high school.
Mitchell is probably going to get eased into the rotation as the year goes on, as he could venture into a point forward role in the near future. If fully healthy, and if Loving finds himself in the midst of negative off the court attention, look for the freshman to step in.
Two other players worth noting for the position are Austin Grandstaff, Jake Lorbach, and Jae'Sean Tate. Grandstaff is expected to play in the backcourt and Tate will likely see his time in the frontcourt, but both have the potential to move to the wing if needed. Lorbach is a walk-on and could get time in emergency situations.
The Big Ten Network's stance on the 2015 Buckeye prospectus is justifiable due to the departures of not only Russell, but Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson. Having to replace three quality players is never an easy task.
The overall talent is there to surprise the conference and jump into the national spotlight later in the season. Thad Matta has been known to galvanize young teams, and this year could hold true to that as well. Surpassing expectations hinges on the shoulders of Loving. If he commits himself to the program, this is a team to watch out for as the season progresses.