Life After Craft: Matta's Starting Lineup Undergoing Vast Changes

By Michael Citro on March 30, 2014 at 8:15a

Thad Matta’s Buckeyes will look very different in 2014-15.

Aside from the sad departure of Aaron Craft — Ohio State’s all-time leader in steals and assists and one of the school’s top 30 scorers of all time — the Buckeyes will also face life without departing senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. and underclassmen LaQuinton Ross and Amedeo Della Valle. Ross’s departure was somewhat expected. Della Valle’s was a bit of a surprise.

With three starters gone and a developing depth player off to Europe, Matta’s team will be completely transformed next season. The two remaining starters will be seniors who have yet to reach their potential and the bench will be completely revamped.

It may be a bit early, but we’ll take a look ahead to see what the starting lineup might look like in Year One A.C. (After Craft).

Amir Williams returns at center in what will hopefully be the long-awaited breakout season for the former McDonald’s All-American. Likewise, Sam Thompson will be back, reprising his role at the three spot.

That’s about 16 points per game returning to the starting lineup from an offensively-challenged squad that averaged 69.5 points and didn’t get much from its bench. The Buckeyes said goodbye to their top three scorers and three of their top five rebounders. There is clearly a lot to replace when the ball tips off this fall.

Shannon Scott will step back into the starter’s role he voluntarily vacated midway through this year. The difference is that Scott will become the primary point guard, taking over Craft’s role. Scott has shown glimpses of becoming a formidable player. Already an elite defender and fine distributor, Scott has only scratched the surface of his scoring capabilities.

The smooth-shooting, confident version of Scott that showed up for the Big Ten Tournament semifinal against Michigan must become a regular part of Matta’s offense for Ohio State to maximize its potential next year. He scored 18 against the Wolverines on 7/10 shooting (4/6 from distance), equaling his season high.

Scott opened the season strong, reaching double figures in three of the first four games. He accomplished that just six times across the final 31 contests. A more consistent Scott will ease the loss of Craft considerably.

After Williams, Thompson and Scott the starting lineup gets a bit more uncertain.

The shooting guard battle will likely be between incoming freshman D’Angelo Russell and redshirt freshman Kam Williams. Russell is a more natural fit at the position, but both are highly regarded prospects.

Russell has been impressive as a prep prospect, with a shooting touch that Ohio State certainly could have used this season. The Montverde (Fla.) Academy product is a fluid and confident shooter and should provide offense either as a starting two guard or a valuable contributor off the bench. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5, but he’ll need to fill out his frame to take the physical pounding of B1G hoops.

Williams averaged 21 points as a high school senior, but an unfortunate case of mono forced him into a redshirt situation this year. A year in Ohio State’s program may provide him with an edge over Russell.

Four of these guys are gone now.
Kam Williams (upper left) should be seen in games this year instead of just the team photo.

Whoever doesn’t win this position battle may be the sixth or seventh guy in the rotation, but will almost certainly provide value to Matta off the bench.

The starting four spot will come down to sophomore-to-be Marc Loving and Temple transfer Anthony Lee, who committed to Ohio State yesterday.

Lee is an experienced power forward, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds this year for Temple in about 31 minutes per game. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound big posted 11 double-doubles this season, but has been knocked for having poor hands on interior passes — something we’ve seen way too much of with Amir Williams and Trey McDonald.

Meanwhile, Loving has shown a lot of promise over his freshman season, but stepping up to replace Ross may be a bit too much to ask. Loving is certainly the future, and his role will expand in 2014, but he’ll have to earn it if he’s going to step into a starter’s role.

The rotation will still include McDonald, a high-energy, low-production (so far) post player who is prone to quick foul trouble. He’ll continue to spell Amir when Ohio State features its larger lineup.

Bench experience will drop off sharply after McDonald. Freshman Keita Bates-Diop is a 6-foot-7 forward who may earn the kind of early minutes that Loving garnered this year (or maybe more). Guard/forward Jae’Sean Tate out of Pickerington will be coming off an injury his senior year of high school, but he’s a talented kid who could compete to get into the rotation.

Matta’s fourth true freshman, David Bell out of Cleveland, is a 6-9 inside player who many consider to be a guy with a lot of raw potential.  He may be a redshirt possibility, if Matta can afford to sit anyone next year — especially an interior player.

With five new faces all entering together this fall, Ohio State will be a team that looks very different in the fall. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s a good different.



gwalther's picture

"Amir Williams returns at center in what will hopefully be the long-awaited breakout season for the former McDonald’s All-American." Lol. Yes, we all hope that happens. I'm sure Raptors fans hoped former no.1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani had his breakout season in year four as well.

Class of 2008

+6 HS
BuckeyeJAK's picture

Amir plays too lazy to "Break out"

Mark May is a mental midget

+11 HS
rosycheeks's picture

Maybe this will be Amir's plop-out season.

+9 HS
TheSpiteHouse's picture

It might be too soon to call for a small lineup with Loving and Lee in lieu of a C. Might be.

+3 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

From what we saw at crunch time this year I think we can be very successful at playing small ball consistantly 

+1 HS
bucksfan92's picture

This team is going to be very good next year, certainly will end up as a better team than this year.  Scott is solid at PG and can wreak almost as much havoc on D as Craft did.  He averaged 2.0 steals per game (to Craft's 2.5) and had a slightly better A/TO ratio (1.8 vs 1.9).  Thompson has developed his outside game to compliment his highlight-reel dunks and look for Loving to have a break out year.  That kid is going to be a superstar before he leaves here.  Amir will be Amir, hopefully he improves at least a little - but one thing he does do well is free throws, which is amazing for a dude with block hands....  If Lee is as solid as everyone seems to think we will be in better than decent shape to challenge for the B1G title and make a deep tourney run.

HotSauceCommittee's picture

I think you are more optimistic than most. 

+2 HS
btalbert25's picture

Let me just preface what I'm about to write by saying I absolutely loved Aaron Craft.  He is everything that is good about college sports, even in this fucked up system the NCAA has created.  He'll be missed, there's going to be a but though.  Ready.....BUT I think he was both a blessing and a curse.  His "shot" at the end of the Michigan game in the B1G tournament to me was representative of what you got with Aaron Craft.  There were so many great things he did, but man he could sure EFF up a game too.  He could go out and win you a game, or he could totally destroy any chance you had by making horrible decisions.  I love the kid, I'll miss his intensity out there, but I think Shannon Scott is better, and I'm glad he finally gets to become the man. 

Shannon Scott seems to be faster.  I think Shannon Scott is a better defender.  He also proved down the stretch that he's gotta a pretty nice shot too.  I think Shannon Scott could be our Russ Smith next year.  It remains to be seen of course, but I think Craft leaving the program opens the door for someone with a higher ceiling and more talent to actually become a star. 

+6 HS
Jack Fu's picture

The team won't be much better than last year unless Loving or one of the freshmen steps up and is a very-good-to-elite offensive player. That being said, I agree about Craft: OSU fans (and game announcers) obsessed about him, but he wasn't "great." He was a "pretty good" player - elite defensively, below average offensively. He couldn't shoot, he didn't get offensive rebounds, and his assist rate, while good, was matched by his turnover rate. Think about this passage, from MGoBlog's preview of Michigan's game with Kentucky:

The Harrison twins are the primary guards. Andrew Harrison (#5) is the point-guard type substance—it's hard to tell when everyone's 6'6"—with his team-high assist rate. Unfortunately for Kentucky, his TO rate is just as high. 23.5 is a number that would make you shake your head if it was a 7-footer turning it in; for a point guard it's turrible.

A 23.5% turnover rate is bad for any player, but for a PG it's turrible [/Barkley]. Craft's turnover rate this year was 24.3%.

Shannon Scott might not give us Craft's level of production next year, but even if he doesn't he's gonna come pretty damn close. PG won't be a problem next year; scoring still will be.

HattanBuck85's picture

I honestly expect us to be better next year. Having Craft AND Scott on the floor killed us offensively. I am very appreciative of the effort Lenzelle put in night-in and night-out but we need more consistency from the 2 position. And I think we will get a very fired up Slam Thompson next year. He could be the X-Factor next year. But I think our season depends on the play of the new players: Russell, Kam Williams, Bates-Diop & Tate. With that said, I wouldn't mind a starting 5 of:

PG: Shannon Scott (K. Williams)

SG: D'Angelo Russell (Tate)

SF: Sam Thompson (Bates-Diop)

PF: Anthony Lee (Loving)

C: Amir Williams (McDonald)

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
ITWASME's picture

I completely agree with you and love that lineup. It's been awhile since we have actually had 2 bigs on the inside at the same time

HattanBuck85's picture

I know! What was it? Oden & Othella Hunter (who I thought was the most under-rated Buckeye in the last 10 years)?

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Woody Hayes

+3 HS
ITWASME's picture

I mean you could say Sully and Lauderdale but with a true center I'd definitely say Oden and Hunter

+1 HS
Smanpoint10's picture

Other than the start of the game, lauderdale and sully were rarely on the floor at the same time

+1 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

What a luxury that was two have that front line. 

+1 HS
BuckWylde's picture

Good lineup projection, although Tate seems to be the kind of player who's almost David Lighty like, in terms of physicality and versatility; might end up being able to play 2, 3 or 4 spot which again makes him like a DL.  Might be fun to watch . . .


mobboss1984's picture

We will be pretty good next year. 

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Bruce Lee

+2 HS
Pa_snoborder's picture

With all due respect what has hurt this team more the past two years: Crafts game or Williams game?  

"No one puts baby in a corner!" - P.Swayze.

-5 HS
Michael Citro's picture

Williams, obviously. And it's not even close.

Pa_snoborder's picture

My comment was aimed at the craft haters in the comments section, not a critique of the post. Good write up. 

"No one puts baby in a corner!" - P.Swayze.

+3 HS
btalbert25's picture

I don't really see any "Craft Haters".  I think you could love Aaron Craft and what he did but also think the team will be better in his absence.  He hit some really big shots for this team and did a lot of great things here.  He also at times could be solely responsible for a loss in big games.  He was pretty awful in the last couple minutes of the Michigan game in the conference tournament.  He had games like that.  He also had huge shots to lift the Buckeyes at times.  No doubt Amir's play has not helped the team, but can you really not acknowledge that at times Craft really hurt this team too? 

Pa_snoborder's picture

I agree with you. There's plus and minus to crafts game. I've just read some really bad comments on some threads that directly links crafts play to a lack of final fours or a championship. While I maintain its more lack of consistency and lack of player development aka "you know who." All I'm simply, humbling, suggesting is a lack of game from you know who is more damaging than the deficiencies in crafts game. That's all. 

"No one puts baby in a corner!" - P.Swayze.

+1 HS
ibuck's picture

Talbert & Snoborder, aren't you being too hard on Craft? In trying to create offense out of nothing, he made some bad passes, and missed some shots—which Matta was begging him to take. But on balance, at nearly 2 assists per turnover, he was a big asset on this team. Those assists, which would have been higher had OSU shot better, and many, many down the lane lay-ups, kept the Buckeyes in games they would have lost without him.

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

+3 HS
Pa_snoborder's picture

No, I've been in crafts camp 100%. Maybe I misspoke. 

"No one puts baby in a corner!" - P.Swayze.

DenBuck's picture

It will be fun to see some fresh faces...glad Amadeo left and wish him the best. Always felt like a wasted schollie to me. 

Buckeye For Life

-2 HS
Deadly Nuts's picture

Would you have rather lost to Nebraska in the B1G quarters?


+1 HS
ibuck's picture

Denbuck, are you more concerned about ADV's schollie than the Buckeyes unused schollies? Sounds like your expectations are awfully high.  Did you feel that way about Diebler's freshman year, as well? (Yes, I know ADV was a soph.)

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

buckeye4life050233's picture

we didn't have any unused scholorships.  we have been on APR scholly restrictions that got lifted this year due to some of the 1 and done players leaving while we were on the quarter system.  It hurt our APR and put us on restrictions for a couple years

MacG91's picture

That is just one game. And who knows someone else could have stepped up, he didn't win us that game, Q did. ADV just added a nice 2nd option. ADV was brought here to be a 3point specialist and couldnt even do that, he shot 32% from deep. 


+1 HS
chimes3899's picture

Unless Williams, Mcdonald or Bell really develops (or we somehow land Turner) I think we should go small. It has worked for us in the past and gives us a better offensive line up that will run the floor. I would love to see the line up be 

1:Scott  2:Russell  3: Thomson 4: Loving  5:Lee

I have a feeling this is the line Thad will have to turn to late in the season like he did with our small line up last season


+1 HS
Toilrt Paper's picture

Lee said he would only come to Ohio State if he could play the 4 spot. That line up would make Matta a fibber..

Raider85's picture

It doesnt make much difference but I thought I read Bell has grown and is closer to 6-11 but the important part is though he is raw and thin he runs the floor very well and is a good defender at the rim.


BuckeyeLuv's picture

Most people continue to hate on Amir, but he did improve AND he is not the only reason y we were a mediocre team. 

Always BuckeyeLuv!

+2 HS
Deadly Nuts's picture

Amir improved alot from 2012 to 2013. Hopefully he can improve equally this year. The kid has all of the potential in the world, just catch the damn ball.


NWbuckfan's picture

I thought I read that Bell is 6'11 

southbay's picture

With ADV gone along with Craft and Smith, there would seem to be a lack of backcourt depth.  Can Matta possibly find another guard the same way he got Anthony Lee?  Can Jae'Sean Tate play guard?  

We have Scott, Russell and Kam.  That's good, but another guy with experience to help out would be nice.

Zimmy07's picture

With Scott at PG I think OSU will be doing a lot more running after rebounds and made baskets.  Sam Thompson will probably like that.

warriard1002's picture

Hopefully we can land Turner and lesson the blow of me having to watch Amir any more than I have to. Maybe even the kid from Va Tech as a transfer. Anything but Amir again you cannot win with that kid against real talent that you will face tournament time.