It was a pretty rough season for Ohio State fans. While the Buckeyes rebounded somewhat after a bad start to non-conference play, they missed the NCAA Tournament and had to settle for an appearance in the NIT. To make matter worse, they recently lost three players from their prized 2015 recruiting class when Daniel Giddens, Mickey Mitchell and A.J Harris decided to transfer. Add that to fact that fellow 2015 recruit Austin Grandstaff left mid-season and coach Thad Matta has plenty of work to do next season.
Having talented players transfer is never a good thing, and it's especially tough when those talented players are expected to play a huge part in the program's future. But while the Buckeyes clearly aren't in a great position right now, they do have one thing going for them. They aren't expecting to lose any important senior contributors.
With so many players leaving college early for the NBA these days, not every team has seniors among its top players. While having a senior who doubles as a team's best player (Denzel Valentine, Yogi Ferrell, Jarrod Uthoff) can be extremely helpful, it also creates a huge void when that player leaves. Not only does the program have to replace that player's production, but his leadership as well.
This is not to say Ohio State has a leg up on the rest of the conference because it didn't rely on any seniors this season. The Buckeyes are still coming off an underwhelming season and face some major questions marks. However, it's still nice they don't have worry about replacing transfers AND seniors. That might be the ultimate glass half-full approach, but it's something.
So what do the Buckeyes have coming back? For starters, they'll actually have a talented senior leader next season in forward Marc Loving. The 6'8" Loving too a major step forward last season in leading the Buckeyes in scoring at 14.0 per game while also contributing 5.3 rebounds in 34 minutes of game action. Ohio State would like to get even more out of him next season, but 2015-'16 was a nice step. The Buckeyes also bring back forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate, who were the team's second and third leading scorers this past season and will both be juniors. A full season from Tate, who missed March with a torn labrum in his shoulder, will be very important.
But the Buckeyes will still need production from their 2015 recruiting class, and that task falls squarely on the shoulders of point guard JaQuan Lyle. The only player remaining from the prized five-man group, Lyle was the class' biggest contributor this season. Although he went through some traditional freshman growing pains, Lyle finished the season strong and averaged 11.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He's going to need to boost his scoring and distributing next season if Ohio State wants to make some noise.
So while the Buckeyes are clearly in a tough position, they at least have the luxury of returning a handful of key contributors next season. And unlike this season, they'll hopefully have one senior they can rely on.