The most important storyline (of many) going into Ohio State's basketball season is how young and inexperienced this roster is for next year. There is raw, unchallenged talent up and down the bench and starting five that are extremely exciting and leave me full of hope. But hope and talent only gets a program so far. Deciding where Ohio State will end up in the Big Ten (and ultimately in March) with a slew of diaper dandies is a bit difficult and doing so is like peering through a smudged window.
But when you consider that Ohio State has the best recruiting class in the Big Ten (according to 247Sports Composite) having pulled in five 4-star recruits (which also came in at 11th best in the country.), contention isn't out of the realm of possibilities. If anything can be taken from Kentucky and Duke of late is that a program CAN contend with freshman and sophomores as leads.
Yet, the question remains:
Who will step up and become a game changer?
Remember the name: JaQuan Lyle.
Yup, that's Ohio State's newest shooting guard jumping off two feet to throw down a missed bunny by his high school teammate... and it was in front of college coaches. If you clicked on the link above, you saw how much I enjoy Lyle's overall game. I'm booking the one time Oregon commit as a star without having seen him play in a real collegiate game. Is that silly? It could be... but I feel like it's justified. But when I see a player that in another life could have easily been an And-1 Mixtape legend by the name of Hi-Top, I have to plant my flag.
The low down on Lyle is as follows: he can shoot, he can dish and he can dribble. He's a real playmaker with the ball in his hands. He's a big body that can take a beating (an attribute he uses to his advantage when slicing towards the hoop and while in the air by the rim). He's a natural pusher in the open court and has terrific vision to boot.
While he's probably not a point guard in the true sense of the position, neither was Russell. But I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a little Russell in him. Yet the question remains, can the incoming freshman make an immediate impact on the court as quickly as his counter part did last season?
Can all of these young pieces gel?
I think so? I mean I wouldn't bet against Matta getting them to mesh. But then again, what sort of stock am I supposed to put into last season's team (you can read our full profile on Ohio State's 2014-15 season here)? That team wasn't setting my "These guys love to play together" alarm off or anything. But maybe losing Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Anthony Lee, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald is a blessing? Maybe there's a new, younger air about Ohio State? Maybe these players ultimately don't know any better than to go out there night in and night out and just punch these older more experienced teams in the mouth?
It's not out of the question.
Look, I realize there are only two upperclassmen on this roster. I know one averaged 1.6 minutes in eight appearances last season (senior Jake Lorbach) and the other was one of the hottest shooters on the team, until he was suspended (junior Marc Loving). I know that filling in around them is four sophomores and six freshman. But they are some of the most exciting and highly touted underclassmen in the conference (Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate were both 4-star prospects and David Bell was a 3-Star recruit in Matta's 2014 class).
This team is stacked with highly touted athletes and in the college basketball world of one-and-done, I kind of believe that this is a roster that will grow together, compete together and eventually start steam rolling the Big Ten together. They may take their lumps this season (especially against teams like Maryland, Purdue and Indiana), but that's only going to help them come March and beyond.
So I guess you could say that I... I believe... I believe that... I believe that they... I believe that they will... I believe that they will win! I believe that they will win!
So where is the program at the end of the season? Is Ohio State a Big Ten contender or will they be in transition?
I really want to say contender because I believe in Thad Matta and I believe in this stable of youth. I really do. There isn't one player on this roster that I'm not wholly excited to watch. But the Big Ten is loaded at the top. You can easily see Maryland, Indiana and Purdue as the top tier and Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan a rung below.
Yet I can totally see Ohio State sneaking in among the Michigan State/Michigan/Wisconsin tier of teams. There are a ton of questions amongst Sparty, Bucky and the Wolverines (as there is with Ohio State) and it can be argued that the Buckeyes have more raw, untapped talent (on top of their equally competitive coach) that can push them to a Top-5 finish in the conference.
Call me crazy all you want, but I would consider a team that enters the Big Ten Tournament as a fifth seed or better a contender, and I think Ohio State can do just that.
There is a fun but tricky road ahead for Ohio State. The talent is there. But so is the youth. If Thad Matta and company can coach up this roster of underclassmen it's not out of the realm of possibilities that the Buckeyes finish within the upper echelon of Big Ten teams. But for any of that to happen Lyle, Loving, Tate, Diop, freshman center Daniel Giddens and Kam Williams need to take a giant leap during the out of conference schedule and learn how to play with one another in preparation for tough night in and night out battles during the conference slate.