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2016-’17 Ohio State Buckeyes Season Preview

BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Ohio State Buckeyes and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2016-’17 season.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-’17 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2016-’17 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 said team.

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Cooking is no easy task. Take it from someone who’s terrible at it.

Making a good dish involves a combination of quality ingredients, expertise, and time. Lacking in any one of those categories can reduce a fine steak to a piece of leather. But the right combination of all three can turn something into a true masterpiece.

Ohio State is coming off a season where the recipe didn’t turn out that well. The team was alright, but failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. The question is whether those struggles were due to bad ingredients, the expertise of the coaching staff, or the experience of the roster.

The reason determining that recipe is so important for Ohio State is because not much has changed from that team to this year’s team. Most of the key ingredients are the same, the head coach stayed the same, and Ohio State’s experience will be relatively similar given its offseason losses. Most things look like they did last year and the question will simply be whether they are different enough to yield better results.

Although this isn’t a make or break year for Thad Matta, it could be an important one for the future. That’s because there doesn’t appear to be any immediate help like a D’Angelo Russell on the way. Matta and his staff will have to make due with this year’s recruits and some solid, but not spectacular prospects in 2017 and 2018. Fans will get a good idea this year as to how that progress will trend over the next few seasons.

Ohio State likely won’t be a championship contender this season, but it has more than enough on its roster to stay competitive in the conference and beyond. While fans might not feel incredibly optimistic about the Buckeyes after the last three seasons, this could very well be the start of a new chapter in Ohio State history.

And with that in mind, here’s a look at what to expect this year.

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’s Matt Brown breaking down Ohio State's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.

1. 2015-’16 Season Performance

  • Record: 21-14 (11-7)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #76
  • RPI Rating: #78
  • Postseason Appearance: NIT

Ohio State’s last season would have been pretty successful for most programs. The team recorded a 21-14 overall record, a 11-7 record in conference play, and made it to the Second Round of the NIT. Add in some huge wins over teams like Iowa and Kentucky and most fanbases would have been appeased.

But Ohio State isn’t a normal school and by its standards, this was a rough year.

Despite that 21-win performance, the team struggled to show consistency. The home losses to Louisiana Tech and UT Arlington stung badly and it took until late February for Ohio State to get its second win over a top 50 team. Ohio State’s record also benefited significantly from a soft conference schedule where the team was able to face Illinois, Northwestern, and Rutgers and got favorable home-road splits.

The team was never terrible, but it really never seemed good either. Ohio State pulled off some nice upsets down the stretch, but the consistency just wasn’t there to get the team to the NCAA Tournament. It also didn’t seem that close to achieving the goal, since many of its losses came by significant margins.

Highlights of the season included non-conference wins over Kentucky and Mercer and Big Ten wins over Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern. Low points of the season included home losses to Louisiana Tech and UT Arlington, three losses in five games to Michigan State and an NIT home loss to Florida.

Individual statistical leaders were Keita Bates-Diop, Daniel Giddens, Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle. Bates-Diop led the team in rebounds and total win shares. Giddens led the team in blocks. Loving led the team in minutes and points. Lyle led the team in assists, steals, and usage..

2. Offseason Exits

Outside of one walk-on, the only attrition Ohio State suffered this season came by way of transfer. While that may sound fortunate, Ohio State saw four freshman (all rated as four-star prospects by 247Sports) leave the team since the start of the 2015-’16 season. These players like Daniel Giddens, Austin Grandstaff, AJ Harris, and Mickey Mitchell. In a surprising twist, JaQuan Lyle became the only returning member of the 2015 class after just one year.

The good news is that none of these transfers were too damaging. Giddens played the most minutes (18.2 mpg) of the group, but he was inefficient (88.7 offensive rating) and was a complete liability (46.8 percent) from the free throw line. Although he was a great shot blocker and a good offensive rebounder, he would have needed to improve significantly to demand more minutes this season.

Additionally, none of the other three departures showed enough to merit real concern. Harris did play in 35 games last year, but his was even less efficient (86.6 offensive rating) than Giddens and shot just 32.0 percent from inside the arc. Grandstaff and Mitchell saw limited time during the year and neither really developed all that well. Grandstaff let halfway through the year and Mitchell never scored fewer than 10 points in every single game.

However, there are two areas where these departures are significant. To start, all four of these players were projected to help the team’s depth and are now gone. That means Ohio State will instead have to look to an underwhelming 2016 class to fill those minutes. Additionally, these are the kind of departures that bite a program in a year or two when the team needs senior leadership. Predicting the future is never easy, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Buckeyes ended up especially young in another year or two largely due to these transfers.

3. New Additions

This season, the Buckeyes will be adding three recruits. These recruits are Derek Funderburk, Micah Potter, and Andre Wesson. Funderburk is rated as a four-star and the others are rated as three-star prospects by 247Sports. Wesson is listed as a small forward and both Funderburk and Potter are listed as centers.

The highest rated prospect of the three is Funderburk, who projects as an athletic big man who should do some major damage on the boards. Depending on how he develops this season, he appears to be a realistic option at either the four or five position. Ohio State fans hoping to see development for the future will be looking to see whether he can push for a starting role by season’s end.

Of the two other prospects, Potter appears to have the clearest path to playing time. Not necessarily because he’s a significantly more polished player than Wesson, but because Wesson is joining a deep wing group with proven options. Although both could be decent players for the Buckeyes down the road, neither projects to be seriously in the rotation this season.

Along with the recruiting additions, Ohio State is also adding a JUCO transfer in CJ Jackson. He played at Eastern Florida State College and is looking to make an immediate impact in the backcourt this season. Jackson has a decent handle and is a pretty solid three-point shooter. Although he’s a long shot to beat out anyone for a starting role, he should be able to make up some minutes for the two freshmen guards who transferred.

Barring something really surprising, Ohio State’s group of newcomers this season looks like an above average group. The four players should add some nice depth and could produce a star down the line, but nobody appears to be in serious contention for a starting job. The good news is that if these players do produce, they should be icing on the cake for a team returning a ton of experience.

4. Team Strengths

The Buckeyes had a down year by most measures last season, but the team did have some significant strengths. While things will certainly differ to some extent from last year, with so much of the roster set to return this fall, it’s hard to think there will be too many differences. The biggest strengths should come on the defensive end and particularly, from the team’s interior defense.

Jae’Sean Tate gets a mixed reputation nationally, but he’s a really underrated defender that gives Ohio State some really intriguing defensive looks. He isn’t the only reason the Buckeyes should be a solid defensive team, but his ability to bring pressure on the outside and keep players out of the paint was a major boost for the team.

With Tate back in the lineup, a great shot blocker (7.3 block rate) in Trevor Thompson, and some solid wing defenders all back, there should be more than enough for Ohio State to keep up its defensive identity. Outperforming its No. 43 nationally ranking last year won’t be an easy task, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility either.

One area that will be interesting to watch will be Ohio State’s defensive play around the rim. The team ranked No. 16 nationally in defensive block rate last season and figures to be strong yet again, but the transfer of Daniel Giddens could leave a mark here. If Ohio State can improve overall, this could be an important aspect to follow.

5. Team Weaknesses

Ohio State may be set for another solid defensive showing this season, but the team could also be set for more problems on the offensive end of the floor. Despite returning largely the same starting lineup, Ohio State needs to find a way to improve its ball control, perimeter shooting, and interior attack. That would be a tough task for any team and especially one without any easy fixes on the roster.

The first area of concern starts in the backcourt. Ohio State finished the season at No. 232 in turnover rate nationally and desperately needs to improve from there. JaQuan Lyle shows signs of quality play, but struggled with a 23.0 turnover rate and other guards like AJ Harris (26.7 turnover rate) weren’t better either. These turnover issues exacerbated what was already an underwhelming Ohio State offense and will be a major red flag this season.

Ohio State could also be set to struggle from long range. The addition of CJ Jackson in the backcourt should provide some relief, but when a team comes in at No. 232 nationally in three-point percentage and its best shooters are inconsistent, it’s going to be a tough problem to fix. This is another area where improvement from Lyle could do wonders. He shot 25.2 percent from long range last season, despite being second on the team in attempts.

Additionally, Ohio State will also look to take some steps forward on offense inside the paint. Ohio State actually wasn’t terrible here last season, but there’s major room for improvement. In particular, the team still needs to find a legitimate big man scoring threat and guards who can get to (and stay at) the line. Giddens showed promise last season, but is now gone and even though Marc Loving and Lyle got to the free throw line often, both shot under 50 percent from the charity stripe.

6. Top Player

Heading into last season, there was no easy pick as to who was going to be Ohio State’s best player. Jae’Sean Tate seemed like the safe pick given his freshman campaign, but nobody seemed like the runaway candidate. Every contender had serious flaws in their game and would need to see real improvement to grab the honor. Not much changed during the course of the season either.

With most of Ohio State’s key players returning to Columbus, it’s hard to expect things to be too different this year. Keita Bates-Diop, Marc Loving, Tate, and Kam Williams all figure to be in the discussion for the team’s best player early on the year and how they develop will determine who’s the frontrunner for this role heading into this season.

The one wildcard in this situation is JaQuan Lyle. He had a solid freshman performance last season, but was relatively inefficient offensively (94.7 offensive rating), struggled with turnovers (23.0 turnover rate), and had serious problems (25.2 percent) from three-point range. That might not sound encouraging, but he was a great passer and could get to the line. If he can take even a moderate step forward in each category, he could have a great year.

Two other players to note in this regard are Derek Funderburk and CJ Jackson. Neither looks like a star candidate heading into this season, but both come to Columbus with decent hype. Although it’s unlikely either can get enough playing time to make a serious run for Ohio State’s best player, they could have an outside shot.

7. 2015-16 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/6 - Walsh (Ex.)
  • 11/11 - at Navy
  • 11/14 - North Carolina Central
  • 11/17 - Providence
  • 11/21 - Western Carolina
  • 11/23 - Jackson State
  • 11/25 - Marshall
  • 11/30 - at Virginia
  • 12/3 - Fairleigh Dickinson
  • 12/6 - Florida Atlantic
  • 12/10 - UConn
  • 12/17 - UCLA (Las Vegas, NV)
  • 12/20 - Youngstown State
  • 12/22 - UNC Asheville
  • 1/1 - at Illinois
  • 1/5 - Purdue
  • 1/8 - at Minnesota
  • 1/12 - at Wisconsin
  • 1/15 - Michigan State
  • 1/18 - at Nebraska
  • 1/22 - Northwestern
  • 1/25 - Minnesota
  • 1/28 - at Iowa
  • 1/31 - Maryland
  • 2/4 - at Michigan
  • 2/8 - Rutgers
  • 2/11 - at Maryland
  • 2/14 - at Michigan State
  • 2/(18/19) - Nebraska
  • 2/23 - Wisconsin
  • 2/28 - at Penn State
  • 3/4 - Indiana

Once again, Ohio State has continued its tradition of composing an unbalanced non-conference schedule. The Buckeyes have four games against top 65 teams and eight against teams outside the top 200 on KenPom. It’s an incredibly uneven slate that makes the limited matchups against quality competition all the more important.

Those matchups will come against Virginia on the road, UCLA on a neutral court, and Providence and UConn at home. Ohio State figures to have decent odds in all of those games except the matchup with Virginia. Since the rest of the non-conference schedule is so weak, Ohio State needs to find a way to win at least two of those games, or it’s going to have its work cut out in Big Ten play yet again.

Big Ten play figures to be relatively manageable this season. Double-plays against Maryland, Michigan State, and Wisconsin should be tough, but the team got a pretty favorable draw elsewhere. In fact, Ohio State gets Minnesota twice and home-only matchups with Indiana and Purdue. If the team can take care of business in winnable games against teams like Illinois and Michigan, there’s a lot of room for success.

Perhaps the most vital stretch of the season for Ohio State will come in early January when the team opens with a pretty challenging six-game stretch. Those games include road games at Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin and home games against Michigan State and Purdue. All of those look winnable outside of the Wisconsin game, but all look challenging as well. If Ohio State can make it through that stretch, it could be a sign of things to come.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: JaQuan Lyle (So.) - 90%
  • SG: Kam Williams (Jr.) - 75%
  • SF: Keita Bates-Diop (Jr.) - 75%
  • PF: Jae’Sean Tate (Jr.) - 95%
  • C: Trevor Thompson (Rs. Jr.) - 80%

(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)

Ohio State’s backcourt should be pretty settled coming into this season. Although the addition of CJ Jackson could shake things up, JaQuan Lyle and Kam Williams figure to be pretty safe bets to start. Perhaps there’s a shakeup in minutes with Jackson and Marc Loving set to play off the bench, but it’s hard to anticipate much drama regarding the starting lineup in the backcourt.

On the wing, things could be a bit more interesting, but also figure to be relatively settled. With Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate both returning, projecting the starters here is pretty easy as well. Each has proven to be a solid contributor at the Big Ten level and could be in All-Big Ten consideration with some improvement. Two others to watch in this group will be Loving and freshman Andre Wesson.

However, Ohio State does have some questions upfront. While Trevor Thompson figures to get most of the minutes at center given his experience, he could easily be pushed by some of the team’s talented underclassmen. In particular, sophomore David Bell and freshmen Derek Funderburk and Micah Potter could all play a role.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to watch upfront will be the development of Funderburk. He’s probably the most talented option of the entire group, but obviously, needs to prove himself as a true freshman. If he can develop into a starter quality option, it could mean huge things for Ohio State this season. That’s because while Thompson is a nice player, he’s far from an elite starter upfront.

9. Team Perspective From Matt Brown of Land Grant Holy Land

"This will be an important season for Ohio State basketball.

After multiple years of diminishing returns, the Buckeyes are running out of excuses. After running out one of the youngest teams in major college basketball last season, the Buckeyes return their top six scorers. After struggling to create efficient offenses, the Buckeyes brought back assistant coach Chris Jent, who helped pilot their best offensive teams. And now, they look primed to return to the NCAA Tournament.

The Buckeyes will bother Big Ten teams with their length. JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State's presumed started point guard, is 6-5. Keita Bates-Diop will see time at the 2 and 3, and he's 6-7. Wing Marc Loving is 6-8. Starting center Trevor Thompson is 7 feet. The Buckeyes will be able to disrupt passing lanes and make shooters uncomfortable. The question, of course, remains, how much they'll be able to score themselves.

With some new key additions (JUCO transfer CJ Jackson has been getting rave reviews at point guard, as is freshman big man Micah Potter), and another year of experience for every contributor, Ohio State should be improved, and should also compete for a top six spot in a rugged Big Ten. If they falter again like last year, Ohio State basketball will have some tough questions to answer." - Matt Brown.

10. Overall Season Outlook

For the first time since early in Thad Matta’s tenure at Ohio State, the fans are legitiamately restless. The team has seen serious regression in each of the last three years, ending in missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. There’s still plenty of slack left for Matta in Columbus, but there’s no longer as much confidence from fans that things are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately for Ohio State and Matta, there are no quick fixes for this team. The Buckeyes saw some roster movement since last season, but it mostly involved bench options. While players like Derek Funderburk and CJ Jackson were nice pickups, neither is good enough to save a lost season just yet. As a result, Ohio State will have the challenging of trying to make a better dish with largely the same ingredients.

It won’t be an easy task.

The good news is that this team should have a really high floor. With so much experience returning, including last year’s starting lineup, Ohio State should at least be decent. Plus, if the younger players have improved (namely JaQuan Lyle), there is some real potential for this roster. Perhaps this isn’t a legitimate Final Four contender like the program has seen in years past, but this team could win its fair share of games.

Matta will have his work cut out if he’s going to turn this Buckeye squad into a Big Ten contender, but if things go well, there’s no reason Ohio State can’t get back to the NCAA Tournament this March.

Big Ten Prediction: 8th Place