The ‘2015-16 BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2015-16 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers each team.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off perhaps the best run in program history. Since Thad Matta took over in Columbus in 2004, the Buckeyes have not only qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 9 of the last 11 seasons, but the program has also made the Final Four twice, the Sweet Sixteen five times, and has won five Big Ten titles.
It's been an incredible run of success for Matta and Ohio State, but a new season brings new challenges. Last year's team was a dangerous one, but never truly contended at the top of the Big Ten or for a deep NCAA Tournament run. The emergence of freshmen superstar D'Angelo Russell certainly made things interesting, but there simply wasn't enough around him to make the roster comparable to Matta's earlier Buckeye squads.
Now, with D'Angelo Russell off to the NBA and the departure of numerous other starters and bench options, there will be plenty of new faces for Ohio State this season. Matta has been able to overcome roster turnover pretty regularly during his tenure in Columbus, but this year could be unique. Not only because the roster loses so much in raw contributions, but also because freshmen like Russell simply don't come around every year.
Ohio State is adding quite a bit on the recruiting trail to attempt to overcome these losses. The class is not only large, but features plenty of top end talent. Few doubt that this could be a class to remember for quite awhile in Columbus. The question is just when it will start making a significant impact.
Given the massive offseason attrition, it's not to think that the Buckeyes will regress this season. However, the question will be about how much regression occurs. After all, this should still be one of the most talented rosters not only in the conference, but the entire country. This could be Matta's biggest challenge in quite awhile and if he can keep Ohio State contending this year, it could be the start of something special over the next few years.
With that, let's take a look at the Buckeyes.
BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast
Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Ohio State Buckeyes, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Buckeyes, featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Land Grant Holy Land Manager Matt Brown breaking down Ohio State's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.
1. 2014-15 Season Performance
- Record: 24-11 (11-7)
- KenPom Team Rating: #21
- RPI Rating: #41
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament
Last season was a mixed one for Ohio State. Preseason expectations were generally very high for the Buckeyes and though the team technically didn't match those hopes, it was still a pretty successful year. After all, the season did end with another NCAA Tournament appearance, 24 wins on the season, and nice wins over Indiana, Purdue, and VCU on the resume.
The Buckeyes were a good team, but there just wasn't enough balance on the roster and too much reliance on D'Angelo Russell for the team to reach that never level. The frontcourt was also a revolving door with several players getting time, but with none performing that well. The Buckeyes didn't necessarily struggle to take care of business or beat solid teams, but it just never seemed to have that extra gear to truly compete at the top level.
In my 2014-15 Big Ten Recapitulation Series, this is what I wrote about Ohio State:
Ohio State's performance during the 2014-15 season failed to meet preseason expectations. However, an NCAA Tournament appearance and a postseason win over VCU certainly isn't a season that most are going to consider "bad" under any analysis, but it still was so close to being so much better.
Despite the raw achievement of making the NCAA Tournament, this was a team with experience, depth, and exceptional talent that finished 11-7 in the Big Ten and was a #10 seed to the Big Dance. The Buckeyes finished at #21 in overall KenPom rating - 4th highest in the conference - but again, they also finished 6th in the Big Ten. That conference finish shouldn't be all encompassing, but it's hard not to think that this team should have finished better not only in the regular season, but also in the NCAA Tournament seeding as well.
Still, despite what was very likely a disappointing finish in the regular season, this was still a good team that made the NCAA Tournament after losing arguably its three top players from 2013-14. There might have been more on the table than Ohio State ended up taking, but it was still a pretty solid season for the team. The Buckeyes certainly should avoid the lower grades, but their inability to reach that next step limits them from the highest grades.
The advanced stats and the numbers really liked Ohio State, but the team just didn't seem to be able to do enough to put together a resume to match the numbers. After all, it's kind of amazing to think that KenPom's #21 rated team ended up as just a #10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But that's just how things worked out.
Highlights of the season included home wins over Indiana, Maryland, and arch-rival Michigan and a win over VCU in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament. Though none of these teams were elite, they were quality units that won a bunch of games last season. Low points of the season included no quality wins in non-conference play and a loss to arch-rival Michigan on the road late in the year.
Individual statistical leaders were D'Angelo Russell, Shannon Scott, and Amir Williams. Russell led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, usage, and win shares. Scott led the team in assists and steals. Williams led the team in blocks.
2. Offseason Exits
During the offseason, Ohio State lost a total of seven players for various reasons. These players were Anthony Lee, Jake Lohrbach, Trey McDonald, D'Angelo Russell, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams. Six of these players graduated and Russell declared for the 2015 NBA Draft. Of these losses, the most significant come from Russell, Scott and Thompson. Though the losses of Lee, McDonald, and Williams by themselves aren't that significant, together they took virtually all the minutes at center, making their loss significant.
Putting the loss of Russell into perspective for Ohio State is pretty difficult. When a player leads a team in minutes, points, rebounds, three point field goals, and usage, that's a pretty substantial loss. He was the team's do-it-all offensive player. There's a reason why his advanced stats were easily ahead of anyone else on the roster.
Projecting anyone to come even close to Russell's contributions next season is pretty unrealistic. After all, Russell was an All-American and the team didn't have a single other player that made the first, second, or third All-Big Ten teams last season. Scott and Thompson got honorable mention, but both players are also departing the roster as well. There are certainly players who could step up, but realistically, Russell is a player that Ohio State will have to hope to replace by committee and not with just one player alone.
Scott and Thompson are also both pretty significant losses. Neither was outstanding, but both were probably in the really good category and played a ton of minutes. Scott was probably the team's best passer and Thompson was a great defensive player who also did a ton of damage in transition. Both players were on the court for over 75% of the team's minutes last season and finding replacements will not be easy, especially defensively.
Along with losing the team's top three leaders in total win shares in Russell, Scott, and Thompson, the Buckeyes are also losing three big men, including the team's top options at center in McDonald and Williams. All told, Ohio State didn't get great production from Lee, McDonald, or Williams, but the three did see the court and were the team's top options upfront, which is noteworthy. Additionally, the loss of Lohrbach is rather insignificant as he played a total of just 13 minutes during all of last season.
There's really no way to assess these losses other than as massive for Ohio State. When a team loses its best player by a good margin, its top three contributors overall, and its top options at center, these are not things that can simply be overlooked. Every positional group was hit, the center position was decimated, and the backcourt lost two starters. Whether players were overrated or not, those are huge losses.
Overall, Ohio State is going to have a tough time finding adequate replacements for these offseason losses. Some of the departures were not outstanding players, but from a basic analysis, there are a lot of numbers leaving the roster. The good news is that the Buckeyes had a pretty young bench last season. Still, even then, that's probably not enough to overcome these losses alone. After all, Ohio State is losing its leaders in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks from last season.
3. New Additions
This season, the Buckeyes will be adding five new recruits and one transfer. The recruits are Daniel Giddens, Austin Grandstaff, AJ Harris, JaQuan Lyle, and Mickey Mitchell. All fives are rated as 4-star prospects by 247Sports. Harris is a point guard, Grandstaff and Lyle are shooting guards, Mitchell is a small forward, and Giddens is a center.
This is an extremely talented group overall, but the prospect receiving the most attention is Lyle. He has the highest ratings from the scouting services and is the player most are tapping to attempt to fill D'Angelo Russell's role from last season. It's not essential that Lyle be successful for Ohio State to make some noise this season, but it would help massively if he could contribute early.
Along with Lyle, the Buckeyes will also likely see Harris get some major minutes in the backcourt thanks to the departure of Shannon Scott. Harris is not expected to be as college ready as Lyle, but is a player that should be able to contribute this year and long-term. Along with this, Grandstaff and Mitchell should be able to come off the bench on a wing group that does have some experience returning.
One addition that could be particularly important is Giddens. He is expected by most to have a higher ceiling than last year's big men options like Trey McDonald and will be needed significantly since Ohio State loses a ton of depth at center this offseason. His athleticism and ability to play around the rim should be an ample boost this year.
Along with the recruiting additions, Ohio State will be adding one transfer in Trevor Thompson from Virginia Tech. He sat out last year and is expected to be another player who can step in at the center spot. He has massive size at 6'11" and only played one season at Virginia Tech, but was a pretty solid rebounder during his limited time there.
There isn't much getting around the fact that this is a deep and talented set of additions to the roster. Whether it's in the backcourt, on the wing, or in the frontcourt, this group is going to impact Ohio State both this season and long-term. The question will just be whether that impact is enough to overcome the massive offseason attrition that the Buckeyes have endured this offseason.
Realistically, it's probably a bit too much to expect a group of 4-star freshmen and one transfer to overcome all of Ohio State's attrition issues. However, it's probably not much of a stretch to think that many of those concerns will be minimized with this group and address long-term. This is a very talented group, but probably not a group that Buckeye fans should pin all their hopes to this year.
4. Team Strengths
With so much transition for the Buckeyes this season, trying to gauge Ohio State's strengths is very difficult. After all, this team will likely look completely different than last year's team with so many new faces seeing significant roles this season. However, some of the areas that have the potential to be improved are in perimeter shooting and in rebounding. Again, it's a moving target, but these could be stronger areas than last year.
Ohio State wasn't actually a bad shooting team last season. The Buckeyes finished at #63 nationally in three point percentage, despite not having a ton of attempts. The improvement was also pretty significant from the year prior. A big reason for this improvement was undoubtedly D'Angelo Russell.
It was a pretty efficient shooting team, but there was plenty of room for improvement considering that the team was just #220 nationally in percentage of team points from outside the arc. If Ohio State can keep up those numbers while increasing the attempts, the offense could really become dangerous this season.
The loss of Russell is going to be a massive hit to this area. He not only led the team in attempts from three point range, but also was one of the team's leaders in three point percentage. Russell attempted a ton of shots and hit them at a crazy high rate as well. Finding a replacement for that will not be easy.
However, a few of the things Ohio State will having going for it in this area is that it should have several players who can hit from outside more effectively this year. To start, Marc Loving should get more minutes and he hit 46.1 percentage of his long-range attempts last year. Along with this, Keita Bates-Diop should get more minutes and true freshman Austin Grandstaff should get looks as well. Both are really nice shooters and should help here.
Though Ohio State may be less efficient than it was last year from outside, it's not hard to think that this are could improve overall with more attempts. The shooting percentage might go down, but that won't necessarily be a bad thing as long as it doesn't decrease too much.
Another area where Ohio State could see significant improvement is on the boards. The Buckeyes were not great in the frontcourt last year and this is an area where those struggles showed up. Ohio State finished at just #222 nationally in defensive rebounding rate and even the starters weren't all that great.
It's unlikely that Ohio State will suddenly become an elite team in this category, but with the additions of Daniel Giddens and Trevor Thompson, this is an area that could see improvement. Jae'Sean Tate was also an absolute beast on the boards and should be even better this season.
Again, trying to gauge Ohio State's strengths and weaknesses is exceptionally hard given the massive roster turnover this offseason. However, given the way the roster sits, it's not hard to think that the Buckeyes will rely more on quality perimeter shooting and rebounding to propel the team this season.
5. Team Weaknesses
Similar to the strengths, trying to assess Ohio State's weaknesses this season is a challenging endeavour. However, there are a few areas that could be challenges. Particularly, the Buckeyes will likely have some trouble in turnovers and creating turnovers on defense due to the massive offseason losses.
One of the areas that probably didn't receive enough attention last season was Ohio State's quality passing. The team came in at #53 nationally in offensive turnovers and #125 in assists per field goal made. These were not elite numbers, but this perform was driven from the quality performances of D'Angelo Russell, Shannon Scott, and Sam Thompson. Just take a look at how the Buckeyes compared to the rest of the Big Ten.
Along with a potential hit to the team's quality ball control on offense, the Buckeyes will also likely regress in the team's ability to create turnovers on the defensive end. All of Russell, Scott, and Thompson did a nice job of creating turnovers last year and will likely not be easily replaced.
Last season, Ohio State finished at #30 nationally in opponent turnover rate and #35 nationally in steal rate. This was a team that pressured opponents and created turnovers. This was largely led by the trio of Russell, Scott, and Thompson and one can see how they compared to the Big Ten below.
Neither of these issues should derail Ohio State's season, but they could be areas that hold back the Buckeyes from the top end of the Big Ten. Finding quality replacements in the backcourt for Russell and Scott would go a long way in addressing these concerns and with several key backcourt recruits, perhaps they can address these concerns.
6. Top Player
There was plenty of uncertainty heading into last season regarding who would be Ohio State's best player. However, once D'Angelo Russell exploded onto the scene, his status with the team became pretty obvious. However, he and several other key players are now departing, which leaves many eyes focused on Jae'Sean Tate. He came in at #15 in the BTPowerhouse preseason Big Ten player rankings and for good reason.
Tate was far from being Ohio State's best player last season. In fact, he played just 54.7% of Ohio State's minutes, which is a far cry from several other players on the roster. However, with so many players departing and his impressive efficiency and rebounding, there's a pretty strong argument that Tate is the team's best returner. Plus, considering that he was just a freshman last season, improvement is expected as well.
Some other potential candidates to be Ohio State's top player are returners Keita Bates-Diop, Marc Loving, and Kam Williams. All were underclassmen and should have bigger roles. Incoming freshman JaQuan Lyle and transfer Trevor Thompson are also players with plenty of potential and though neither are known quantities, but are seen as prospects with high ceilings.
Predicting who emerges for Ohio State this season will not be an easy task, but with such talented newcomers and a decent returning core, there will be some options. Nonetheless, with how Tate played down the stretch and his raw skillset, look for him to be the top contributor for the Buckeyes.
7. 2015-16 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/8 - Walsh (Exhibition)
- 11/15 - Mount St. Mary's
- 11/17 - Grambling State
- 11/20 - Texas-Arlington
- 11/24 - Louisiana Tech
- 11/27 - Memphis (Miami, Florida)
- 12/1 - Virginia
- 12/5 - VMI
- 12/8 - Air Force
- 12/12 - at Connecticut
- 12/16 - Northern Illinois
- 12/19 - Kentucky (Brooklyn, New York)
- 12/11 - Merver
- 12/27 - South Carolian State
- 12/30 - Minnesota
- 1/3 - Illinois
- 1/6 - at Northwestern
- 1/10 - at Indiana
- 1/13 - Rutgers
- 1/16 - at Maryland
- 1/21 - at Purdue
- 1/25 - Penn State
- 1/28 - at Illinois
- 1/31 - Maryland
- 2/4 - at Wisconsin
- 2/9 - Northwestern
- 2/13 - at Rutgers
- 2/16 - Michigan
- 2/(20/21) - at Nebraska
- 2/23 - Michigan State
- 2/27 - Iowa
- 2/(5/6) - at Michigan State
Ohio State has setup what appears to be a very difficult non-conference slate, especially considering the offseason losses that the Buckeyes are facing this year. There are several games against teams that appear to be national championship contenders, other games against good teams, and even a few dangerous games on top of those.
The most significant games on this non-conference schedule include the road game at UConn, the neutral site matchups with Kentucky and Memphis, and the home game against Virginia. There are also a few other dangerous games like the matchups with Louisiana Tech and Northern Illinois. This is an absolutely stacked slate.
To start, the matchups with Kentucky, UConn, and Virginia are all going to be extremely difficult. Kentucky and Virginia are in the top three on KenPom and the Huskies are considered to be a fringe top 25 team. In fact, the most likely win of the three games according to KenPom is the game against Virginia, where Ohio State has a 38 percent chance to win. Along with that, Memphis should be a solid team on a neutral court. Losing all four games isn't unreasonable.
It's hard to see the Buckeyes losing all of the team's challenging non-conference games this year, but losing three games is probably pretty likely. Ohio State will be a massive underdog in three games and still has some tricky games beyond that. As such, expect a 9-4 or a 10-3 record for Ohio State in non-conference play this year.
Conference play will be more balanced for Ohio State, but this still looks like a very challenging schedule as well. In total, Ohio State will play 12 of its 18 conference games against teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year, are in top 25 consideration this season, or are on the road. Things are going to be challenging.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of wins on the table here for Ohio State. With double-plays against Illinois, Northwestern, and Rutgers, there are at least a handful of games to start where the Buckeyes should have solid odds to win. Ohio State also has home games against Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, and a road game against Nebraska. There's a legitimate path to a 9-9 or 10-8 in the conference without knocking off too many top end teams.
Having said that, actually getting to a 9-9 or 10-8 conference record will not be easy. It's going to take a combination of taking care of business against the bottom-end Big Ten teams, at least a quality road win or two, and at least one upset over a top end Big Ten team. All told, expect somewhere between seven and ten conference wins. Realistically, it's probably going to be right around the .500 record.
Overall, this is a very difficult schedule for Ohio State. With some legitimate national title contenders in non-conference play and the majority of its conference games being difficult games, things will be tough. The good news is that Ohio State will have the potential to build its team and resume early, but it could also undertake some big hits early on as well. There's some movement in conference play, but it projects somewhere around the NCAA Tournament bubble.
8. Projected Startling Lineup
PG: JaQuan Lyle (Fr.) - 65%
SG: Kam Williams (Rs. So.) - 65%
SF: Marc Loving (Jr.) - 65%
PF: Jae'Sean Tate (So.) - 95%
C: Trevor Thompson (So.) - 75%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
The backcourt will have a ton of moving parts coming into this season. With D'Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott departing, two starters are gone and there are no proven returners. At point guard, the battle is likely going to be between incoming freshmen AJ Harris and JaQuan Lyle. Though Lyle is more of a combo guard, his skillset should allow him to start right away. The question will largely just be whether he should start at the point or the two.
Alongside the point guard position, the battle at shooting guard is expected to be between Lyle and Kam Williams. As mentioned, whether Lyle starts here or at point will probably just be whether Harris or Williams is the more productive player. Though Harris has a good amount of hype, this seems like Williams' battle to lose. He was decent in his limited time last year and could be set to breakout this season.
On the wing, the Buckeyes will likely see Marc Loving and Jae'Sean Tate grab starting roles. Ohio State does have the potential to play either of these players at small forward or power forward, but with Tate's physical prowess and his skillset inside, he seems to be the best choice at power forward. Loving is still a bit of a question mark, but he is easily the team's best returning three point shooter, which should be good enough to grab him a starting role.
The battle at center could actually be more intriguing than many believe. Though Virginia Tech transfer Trevor Thompson has to be considered the frontrunner for the position, freshman big man Daniel Giddens and redshirt freshman David Bell could make some serious noise in the rotation as well. Giddens has a great deal of potential and could go on a similar path as Tate did last year, gradually getting more minutes as the year goes on. Ohio State loses a lot upfront from last season, but this position may not take as big of a hit as the numbers indicate.
Considering that the only returners who played more than half of Ohio State's minutes last season are Loving and Tate, there are a lot of question marks across the roster. However, with the talented recruiting additions and the versatility of players like Lyle and Tate, this could be a pretty dangerous lineup. The big challenge will just be for Matta to work out who are the best options to get onto the floor.
There's little doubt that Ohio State is going to have depend significantly on newcomers in the lineup for this season, but with some key returns, this should still be a pretty good lineup. Plus, with Lyle, the Buckeyes will have plenty of lineup options to get the best players on the court.
9. Team Perspective From Matt Brown of Land Grant Holy Land
"Ohio State will be one of the most unpredictable teams in the Big Ten this season. They're no question they are talented, having secured the best recruiting class in the conference last year, but they're exceptionally young, and almost entirely new. The Buckeyes are bringing an entirely new point guard rotation, and entirely new rotation of centers, and have just one upperclassman (Marc Loving) in the rotation. On a given night, they could beat the conference's best, or lay an egg and lose to Nebraska.
The Buckeyes have the schedule to get a bid to the NCAAs (noncon games include Kentucky, Virginia, Memphis and UConn), and probably have the raw talent, but whether they can mesh and become consistent in time is the real question. Can JaQuan Lyle step in for the departed D'Angelo Russell and become Ohio State's go-to scorer? Can Daniel Giddens provide the interior toughness and rim projection that has been lacking in Columbus for years? What does the wing rotation look like? Can they get enough scoring?
This could be the closest thing to a rebuilding season in Columbus since the start of Thad Matta's tenure, but that doesn't mean the Buckeyes are a lock for the NIT. If nothing else, Ohio State should provide compelling television, and will be a tough out in conference play, as they look to make a real run for a Big Ten crown a season from now." - Matt Brown.
10. Overall Season Outlook
By just about any measure, this is a transition year for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are losing the team's best player, its top three players, and several other contributors this offseason, which has many skeptical about how Ohio State will perform this year. Having said that, not all transitional years have to be bad ones.
With arguably the Big Ten's best incoming recruiting class and key returners in Marc Loving, Jae'Sean Tate, and Kam Williams, there are still plenty of options on this roster. Plus, with Virginia Tech transfer Trevor Thompson, the Buckeyes might actually improve upfront despite losing several players at center. Matta may have plenty of question marks in the team's starting lineup and rotation, but there are some tools to work with this season.
Of course, considering that few of those returners have shown a ton at this point and the fact that not one of the incoming prospects appear to have the "out of the gate" potential D'Angelo Russell had last year, it's hard to think this team can maintain the success Ohio State has seen recently. Plus, considering that Ohio State is losing so much from last year's team, which still wasn't all that great, it has to be even more concerning.
Still, with Thad Matta's history in Columbus and the fact that this is a team with a ton of talented pieces, the Buckeyes should still be dangerous. This year will likely be viewed as a transition period in the future, but it should still be a year where Ohio State is in NCAA Tournament contention. A true testament to Matta's tenure in Columbus.