When we last saw the Ohio State Buckeyes they were making a second round exit in the NIT Tournament. Despite the short post-season run, this was a fitting way to end a season filled with disappointment, including being the seventh ranked team in the Big Ten.
So with the 2016-17 season approaching in less than two months, head coach Thad Matta has a lot of work to do in getting his team back in contention with the conference elite. There are numerous story-lines expected to surface as the season goes along, but there are three specific ones you should keep an eye on for right now.
Favorable schedules can be a big part of the success a team has during a season and the Buckeyes have a very intriguing schedule ahead of them.
Here’s a look at some of their notable non-conference schedule opponents: UConn, Providence, Virginia and UCLA. These four teams are tough competition and major tests for the Buckeyes, especially before they get into the conference games. They’ll have a chance to see how they fair against teams people have rated as NCAA Tournament contenders.
In Conference, the Buckeyes notable games will be versus Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Maryland and Wisconsin. A perfect combination of top competition and opponents they’ll be favored against.
This might be a cliche pick for a story-line, but if there’s any chance of avoiding a 2015-16 repeat, then taking advantage of a schedule loaded with quality teams and getting quality wins is something to follow. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to build a strong resume, even if Ohio State drops a number of games, but they actually have to win against good teams this winter.
Consistency from Bench
Yes, I’ve discussed this before and so have other pundits, but the depth on this team will be the topic of conversation all season long. Despite being freshman, the losses of Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens, Mickey Mitchell and A.J. Harris will have an effect on the team, but other players must step in.
Of all the returnees, junior center Trevor Thompson might be the guy to watch. He played 17.9 minutes-per-game last year, averaging 6.5 points and 5.1 rebounds. At 7-foot, he has a chance to bring consistency to the front-court, making an impact on both ends of the floor. Matta’s only highly ranked recruit freshman, forward Derek Funderburk, will also play a role in that consistency.
For the Buckeyes to take advantage of the schedule opportunities I mentioned previously, strength in numbers must be the motto this season.
Probably the most enigmatic go-to-scorer in recent Ohio State memory, Marc Loving is now the lone senior on a young squad. Loving has improved his point-per-game average every season he’s been in Columbus, but it’s time for him to make the next jump, which is becoming anything the Buckeyes need out of him. Especially on offense.
Remember Deshaun Thomas’s final year at Ohio State when he averaged almost 19.8 points-per-game, taking on the majority of the offensive responsibility once Jared Sullinger departed to the NBA? Well, it’s time for Loving to follow in those footsteps.
Whether he knew it or not, this transition began the moment D’Angelo Russell decided he was not returning last season. Loving’s performance was more-or-less the same from the season before and the Buckeyes needed more if they wanted to remain at the same level in 2015-16.
There are several players to choose from on this roster to be top storylines, but none have more on the line this season then the versatile senior forward. The reality is how he performs in 2016-17 could be critical to determining just how good Ohio State is this season.