The Ohio State Buckeyes had a pretty good 2014-2015 season finishing with a 24-11 record led by point guard D'Angelo Russell, as the team made the NCAA tournament for the seventh straight year under head coach Thad Matta. But as Russell enters the NBA draft, the Buckeyes will be looking for some new leaders, especially up front.
The good news for the Buckeyes is the fact that they have done a good job with their depth in the back court as guards in A.J. Harris (Dayton, Ohio), Jacquan Lyle (Bradenton, Florida) and Austin Grandstaff (Rockwall, Texas) will enter as freshmen for the 2015-2016 season to team up with next season's sophomore Kam Williams.
However, even though their back court looks to be in solid shape, they might have some issues in their frontcourt for the 2015-2016 season. While talented center Daniel Giddens out of Oak Hill Academy, Virginia has already signed his letter of intent, Ohio State lacks experience upfront in a conference that appears to be loaded there next year.
Over the last several years from Greg Oden to Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes could always impose their will physically. That most likely won't be the case during the 2015-2016 season and could be a key factor in how Ohio State performs next season.
As the Buckeyes lose some size with senior centers in Amir Williams and Trey McDonald leaving, the team will be forced to turn to a raw David Bell and Trevor Thompson, an incoming transfer from Virginia. Neither of those are proven options and could put a lot of pressure on Giddens entering his first year to do all of the dirty work in the paint.
When looking around the landscape in the Big Ten, a couple of teams especially the ones projected in the fop five of the conference will pose some stiff competition up front for the Buckeyes.
How will Matta combat that? Because thinking of the worst case scenario let's say Bell and Thompson are not up to the task. How do the Buckeyes control their front line? Do they try to compensate by adding a little bit of speed and quickness in their back court by playing Harris, Lyle and Grandstaff at the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions respectively?
And with that, do the Buckeyes decide to add a little length up front by making small forward Keita Bates-Diop a stretch four and in turn, making opposing power forwards guard the perimeter to make Giddens job a lot easier by freeing up space in the paint?
There are a lot of ways the Buckeyes could go about using their lack of depth and experience on their front line to their advantage. Things would have been a lot easier if the Buckeyes were in highly touted Toronto native power forward Thon Maker's final cut among schools he would commit to but unfortunately, they didn't make it.
Nonetheless, if opposing teams manage to take the Buckeyes' lunch money in the paint during this upcoming season, it most likely won't happen again during the 2016-2017 season as the Buckeyes have locked up quality centers in Derek Funderburk (Lakewood, Ohio) and Michah Potter (Mentor, Ohio). Both could make instant impacts and address potential concerns if Giddens and others can't perform well enough.
On the flip side, if the Buckeyes can manage to battle and get through the season despite the inexperience up front, it will arguably be Matta's best coaching job yet.
The Buckeyes are a young team and have some promise. At the end of the day, the frontcourt looks to be a work in progress, but Matta's efforts on the recruiting trail should rectify some of these issues going forward.