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After An Offseason Of Loss, Can Ohio State Get Back On Track This Season?

In short order, the Buckeyes lost Thad Matta and a core of big minute players.

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

The Ohio State Buckeyes’ 2016-’17 season was one marked with disappointment and underachievement. A 10th place finish ensured the Thad Matta squad would hobble into the Big Ten Tournament, where lowly Rutgers dealt not the final nail in the coffin, but a final stake in the program’s faintly beating heart.

Really, the 2015-’16 hangover never ended, and a seemingly probable bounce back fell short. Compounded in the light win total, Washington, D.C. embarrassment, and NCAA postseason absence was a visible wound on the recruiting front, growing larger and grislier as a bevy of recruits drifted away.

As Ohio State took hit after hit, and Thad Matta’s increasing back issues became a physical manifestation of Buckeye inadequacies, the program elected to clean house.

While Matta and the athletic department described the breakup as amicable, the underlying message rang clear. Ohio State was not only falling flat on the court, but they were losing in their own backyard, highlighted by 2018 commit Darius Bazely electing to take his talents elsewhere.

Matta’s ousting only fed that fire, with three more prospects dropping in Dane Goodwin, Justin Ahrens and Braxton Beverly. While Ahrens still remains in play, Goodwin and Beverly have committed to other schools.

Whether Matta’s firing was right or wrong, his absence will be felt. One of the most decorated coaches in program history, Matta leaves Columbus with an NIT Championship, 8 NCAA appearances, 5 Sweet Sixteens, 3 Elite Eights, 2 Final Fours, and a National Championship appearance, all in just 13 years with Ohio State.

Matta recruited and coached eight players who would go on to be first round picks in the NBA draft, with Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Evan Turner, and D’Angelo Russell all being selected inside the top five. More than anything, though, Matta made connections with players that reached far beyond the court.

“I still stay in contact with coach Matta, I actually talked to him yesterday,” Jae’Sean Tate told BTPowerhouse last month. “I pick his brain and he checks in on me. Our relationship will always be more than just coach and player, on and off the court.”

In addition to the loss of Thad Matta, Ohio State will see several key players missing when looking at this year’s roster. Most notably a duo of bigs, one lost by way of graduation, and one to the NBA draft.

Marc Loving, a stretch big with a lethal outside shot, wrapped up his Ohio State career by averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists while shooting 38% from deep. Loving’s skillset provided the offense additional spacing and added dimension that will be difficult to replace. Where his graduation gashes the Buckeyes the most, though, is his 33.9 minutes a game.

While Loving did his damage on the perimeter, Trevor Thompson owned the paint. Averaging 9.2 rebounds, Thompson was second in the Big Ten only to Caleb Swanigan. Highly skilled on the block, Thompson’s rim protection defensively and strong interior command offensively led to an NBA Draft leap. Thompson ultimately went undrafted, and his decision to hire an agent ensures Ohio State will be left searching for ways to replace his production.

One of the more bizarre storylines of the offseason centered around guard JaQuan Lyle. News surfaced in May that Lyle had been arrested and charged with public intoxication, criminal mischief to a vehicle and disorderly conduct. When asked to comment, Ohio State informed reporters Lyle had quit the team back in April. While the reasons as to why the former 5-star recruit broke ties with the Buckeyes remain a mystery, the status of his career at the university is clear. Lyle moved on to New Mexico, where he will sit a year before returning to the hardwood.

Chris Holtmann certainly enters a tough situation in Columbus. With the mass losses the program has suffered in such a short time, his abilities will be put to the test early. The former Butler head coach does have an experienced, multifaceted player in Jae’Sean Tate, however the cupboard behind him is relatively bare.

Luckily, there are reinforcements on the way. The incoming 2017 class includes a trio of 4-star recruits in center Kaleb Wesson, and forwards Musa Jallow and Kyle Young. They should all see big minutes, even if it is more representative of need than their skill. Just how well the young group performs will go a long way toward Ohio State’s success this upcoming season.