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96 Days to Big Ten Basketball: Did LaQuinton Ross Make A Mistake Declaring Early in 2014?

LaQuinton Ross declared for the NBA Draft after his junior season. What could have happened had he stayed for one more season?

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

LaQuinton Ross, a four star recruit out of Jersey, was a part of a top ten recruiting class for Ohio State in 2011 that also included Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald. While Ross didn't play much in his freshman season (35 minutes total), he became a key contributor during his sophomore season. By the time his junior season came around Ross was a key staple on a team that had lost leading scorer DeShaun Thomas.

Ross took advantage of being the offensive leader for the Buckeyes in 2013-14, leading the team in scoring (15.2 points per game), as well as leading the team in rebounds (5.9 per game). Ross was a major component of the Buckeyes offense, even more so as the team struggled to score heavily outside of Ross, with only Lenzelle Smith hitting double digits per game. At the end of the year Ross ended up earning third team All-Big Ten honors, though the season ended on a sour note with an opening round NCAA Tournament loss to Dayton by a single point.

When everything was said and done the team's leading scorer decided to not stick around for his senior season, declaring early for the NBA Draft. Ross's stock took a big hit heading into the draft, though, when he came into the combine considerably overweight and out of shape, also struggling heavily in a number of different drill tests. The end result was Ross went undrafted and forced to try to earn a camp invite by participating in the summer league. When everything was said and done the former Buckeye ended up spending a season in Italy instead of the NBA, delaying any opportunity of playing in the NBA in 2014. Ross also ended up with a similar fate this summer, failing to stick with the Hornets after participating in the summer league and now set to return to Italy in 2015.

This of course brings up an interesting question pertaining to the Buckeyes, with one wondering how they may have fared this past season had Ross stuck around for his senior season. Ohio State didn't exactly wow the world in 2014-15, but they still won 24 games and made it to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. A lot of that had to do with the massive success of star freshman D'Angelo Russell, who led the team in scoring with 19.3 points per game. However, past Russell there was a limited amount of offensive options for the Buckeyes, with only Sam Thompson hitting double digits.

The reality is Ross and Russell could have made a deadly duo in the Big Ten and having another offensive weapon to pair with Russell would have made Ohio State a considerably better team last season.  While Ohio State managed to spread the scoring across the board relatively evenly past Russell (five players had between 8.5 and 10.2 points per game), the lack of another star definitely hindered the Buckeyes. Looking back at their schedule, nine of Ohio State's 11 losses came by single digits, with the two double digit defeats coming against two of the best teams they faced (Wisconsin, Arizona). Even more telling was the fact that while they averaged an impressive 75.3 points per game, they ended up only scoring 61 points per game in their 11 losses. Six of Russell's worst shooting nights also all happened in losing affairs, with games like Arizona's 3 of 19 shooting performance and North Carolina's 4 of 17 night being rough outings for the eventual lottery pick.

While the Buckeyes had a platoon of players that helped contribute on offense, the lack of a go-to-guy alongside Russell meant time and time again he was forced to take things into his own hands. When it worked the Buckeyes thrived, but when Russell was sporadic from the field Ohio State became an entirely defeatable team. Having Ross, who essentially played a similar role to Russell in his junior season, would have taken the pressure off of Russell and made Ohio State a more balanced team compared to a squad that relied heavily on their star. Simply put, the Buckeyes might have not been as good as Wisconsin, but there's a solid chance Thad Matta's team could have been contending with Maryland for a second place finish instead of ending up sixth in the conference.

Which leads us back to Ross, a skilled forward that probably wasn't any better than a second round draft pick. His problematic experience at the combine likely scared away any potential suitors, but the reality is Ross would have likely thrived in Columbus his senior season as both Russell and him would have been in a significantly better position had they been teammates. The Big Ten has definitely seen it's share of guys go from potentially late draft picks and catapult up into the first round based on successful seasons, and Ross would have likely benefited from being in the spotlight more so last year than in his junior season.

It might not have changed the end result, but it would have likely put him in better shape towards making a NBA team in 2015. It also would have made the Buckeyes a significantly better team in 2014-15.