Ohio offensive linemen Deontae and Devontae Armstong have committed to Ohio State's class of 2024.
Somewhat lost in the midst of Ohio State's two-game losing streak, Marc Loving's recent suspension, talk about the senior class failing to deliver and D'Angelo Russell hitting a bit of a wall is the modest emergence of true freshman Keita Bates-Diop.
As the 4th-ranked player in Illinois, a forward with 6'7" size and a rangy jump shot, Bates-Diop was a highly touted recruit. He was the most-prized recruit in the 2014 class after D'Angelo Russell, ahead of Jae'Sean Tate and the less-heralded Dave Bell.
Despite the hype, Bates-Diop didn't light it up in the non-conference and saw his minutes plunge as Ohio State entered league play. Meanwhile, Tate has emerged as a key cog, logging nearly 24 minutes a night with eight starts in 14 league games.
To his credit, Bates-Diop kept grinding as his minutes per game decreased from 14 in early season action to just under four minutes in the first ten B1G games with two DNP's. This much was evident as he played 19 minutes against Rutgers back on Feb. 8 – game one of Loving's suspension – and responded with a career high 14 points on 4/7 from the floor, including 3/4 from downtown. Bates-Diop also added a career high nine boards to go along with three assists, three blocks and two steals against one turnover. While the game became a 79-60 rout, Bates-Diop scored 10 of his points in the opening half.
|2/14||@ MICHIGAN STATE||5||0/1||0/0||1||0||1||0||0|
Three nights later, in another blowout victory (this time over Penn State), Bates-Diop logged 18 minutes. He contributed a well-rounded seven points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals against zero turnovers.
As Loving returned from suspension but still played just five minutes himself, Bates-Diop tallied only five minutes in the three-point loss at Michigan State with Thad Matta giving double-digit minutes to just one reserve (McDonald: 13 points, 3 rebounds).
Finally, last Sunday in Ann Arbor, Bates-Diop earned 19 road minutes and rewarded Matta's confidence with 12 points on 5/7 shooting including 2/3 from distance along with three boards and two assists. Again, Bates-Diop had zero turnovers.
|LAST 4 GAMES||15.3||12/23||52%||5/9||56%||4.5||1.3||2.0||1.0||8.3|
|BIG PLAY (11 G)||8.3||15/32||47%||6/13||46%||2.4||0.5||0.9||0.5||3.6|
|SEASON (25 G)||11.2||39/84||46%||15/35||43%||2.6||0.6||0.8||0.4||4.5|
During the four game stretch, Bates-Diop gave the Buckeyes something they sorely needed: perimeter shooting. He splashed 5 of 9 treys (56%) with Loving providing enigmatic effort, Russell struggling from the floor and Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson forgetting that they should rarely if ever attempt long jump shots.
Now, with Matta talking about being open to further tweaks in his rotation, this could be a golden opportunity for Bates-Diop.
On the season, Keita's 41% mark from long range (13/32) ranks third on the team behind Loving (53%) and Russell (43%). For perspective on his production, Bates-Diop's five triples during the last four games are just three fewer than Thompson's total in B1G play (14 games) despite playing 380 fewer minutes.
Boosted by his accuracy from downtown and Matta's repeated reminders that he was brought here to shoot, Bates-Diop has also found effective looks along the baseline. He has produced 8.3 points per game during the four game stretch on 52% overall shooting (12/23) while playing barely over 15 minutes per contest.
He's also averaging 4.5 rebounds per game during the four games. By comparison, the team's greatest leaper and seasoned vet, Thompson, is averaging 3.5 rebounds per game while logging over 36 minutes a night during the same stretch.
Finally, Bates-Diop has just three turnovers despite the increased minutes. On defense, his eight blocks over the four games are five more than Amir Williams over the same span.
Certainly, four games do not a trend make, but Bates-Diop's play hopefully gives Matta something to think about as the Buckeyes hit the stretch run. He will likely lean on his seniors but the reality is that Ohio State has come out flat far too often to mistake Shannon Scott, Thompson and Williams as unflappable veteran leaders.
It's hard to imagine this team making a deep run in March and considering his comments earlier this week it might behoove Matta to find Bates-Diop as many minutes as possible with an eye on furthering his development. It would also be helpful to leverage a three-point shot that is markedly better than he'll get from Thompson and Scott, who have both missed 75% of their three-point tries on the season.
Even if you're in the senior leadership camp, there's no reason a few minutes can't be shaved from the 36 and 31 per game that Thompson and Scott have logged in league action and think this team will be that worse off especially knowing those minutes are being spent on development of a guy whose ceiling isn't already known.