Looking ahead: The future of Ohio State's men's basketball program

The future is bright for Ohio State basketball. - Getty Images

As Aaron Craft's potential game-winning runner clanked off the backboard on Thursday, Ohio State witnessed the end of an era. With a talented 2014 recruiting class on the way, let's take a look at the future of the Ohio State basketball program.

With an upset second round loss to Dayton closing out the Aaron Craft Era at Ohio State, Buckeye basketball is in need of an overhaul. With the Buckeyes graduating Craft and shooting guard Lenzelle Smith, Ohio State might also lose out on its top scorer, junior forward LaQuinton Ross, to the NBA Draft. With a talented 2014 recruiting class waiting in the wings, and two talented commits ready to go in the 2015 class, let's take a look at the future of the Ohio State hoops program.

The 2014 Class

According to Rivals.com, Ohio State's incoming class checks in at No. 8 in the nation. Headlined by star shooting guard D'Angelo Russell, whom according to Rivals, is the No. 21 player in the country, coach Thad Matta will have some offensive weapons to play with in the coming years. As Russell is a jack-of-all-trades at the shooting guard position, Matta surrounds his prize recruit with No. 24 small forward Keita Bates-Diop, No. 75 small forward Jae'Sean Tate, and three-star power forward/center Dave Bell. Let's take a look at the signings and how each player will help Ohio State.

D'Angelo Russell (6'5 SG / Montverde Academy, FL)

Regarded by some as the top overall shooting guard in the nation, Russell is an elite scorer. Looking to fill Smith's place in the starting lineup, Russell should make an immediate impact once he arrives in Columbus.

Strengths

  • The ability to create with the ball. Russell is an elite playmaker that uses his length and athleticism to score the ball in a variety of ways. In addition to his scoring, Russell also has great vision, and puts crisp touch on his passes.
  • Fearlessness. Russell is smooth with the ball in his hands, and is not fazed by tight defensive pressure. Playing alongside North Carolina commit Joel Berry this summer, Russell proved to be a solid secondary ball-handler when Berry was not in the game.
  • Versatility. Russell can play both guard positions, in addition to being serviceable at the small forward position. Depending on what role Matta needs Russell to fill, the Louisville native will succeed wherever he goes.

Weaknesses

  • Strength. Russell isn't the thickest of guards, and will need to add muscle before he logs his first minute in the Big Ten. In a conference known of physical play, Russell will need to bulk up to maximize his talents.

Keita Bates-Diop (6'7 SF / University, IL)

One of the better natural wings in the 2014 class, Bates-Diop is a skilled forward that excels most along the baseline. The 6'7 Illinois native likes to spot up for corner threes, while also excelling as a slasher. If Ross decides to forgo his senior season for the NBA, look for Bates-Diop to challenge Mark Loving for the starting small forward spot.

Strengths

  • Scoring. Bates-Diop is a difficult matchup, as his imposing size and length are hard to contain on the perimeter. In addition to Keita's perimeter shooting, the 6'7 forward also excels as a slasher and can be a terror on the offensive glass.
  • Length. Bates-Diop's wiry 6'7 frame allows him to play up to three positions, and also helps the Ohio State commit as a shot-blocker in help-side defense.
  • Versatility. Much like Russell, Bates-Diop is a player that can be used in a variety of ways, which will help the incoming freshman in logging minutes in his first season on campus.

Weaknesses

  • Strength. Bates-Diop isn't the strongest of forwards, and has at times, been pushed around on the low-post. If Bates-Diop can add a great deal of muscle to his frame, the Illinois native could really develop into an elite pro prospect.

Jae'Sean Tate (6'5 SF / Pickerington Central)

The top prospect in Ohio's class of 2014, Tate was a no-brainer for Ohio State. An excellent athlete and competitor, Tate will find a way to get onto the court as a freshman, and should be the type of energy guy that Ohio State so desperately needed this past season.

Strengths

  • Physicality. Tate might be the fiercest competitor that you will see on a high school basketball floor in the Midwest. Loving to attack the basket, Tate turns each game into a contest of "who's tough and who's not." Playing more like a power forward than a small forward, Tate isn't the prototypical wing.
  • Competitiveness. Focus is never a problem with Tate. In the 100+ times that I've seen the Ohio State commit play, Tate has shown up for each game, and has always been productive. Always playing with a chip on his shoulder, Tate's attitude and demeanor will translate flawlessly to the Big Ten.
  • Rebounding. Averaging more than 10 rebounds per game in his senior season with Pickerington Central, Tate is an extremely active rebounder. Always attacking the glass, Tate will fill Smith's void as Ohio State's top rebounding combo-guard.

Weaknesses

  • Size. A bit undersized for the small forward position at 6'5, many have had doubts about what position Tate will play in college. While Tate has gotten away with bullying opposing defenders to the basket for points in high school, will that translate to college?
  • Offensive style. As mentioned earlier, Tate is a wing that plays more like a small forward. Tate prefers to drive or shoot jumpshots from the offensive low-block, a style that might not translate to the next level.

Dave Bell (6'10 PF/C, Cleveland Garfield Heights)

The shocker of the 2014 class, many didn't expect Ohio State to pull the trigger on the lanky post Bell. As the Buckeyes missed out on Goodluck Okonoboh, Elbert Robinson, Payton Dastrup, and what seems to be Myles Turner, Bell is the lone post player in the 2014 class.

Strengths

  • Upside. In just his fourth season of organized basketball, Bell has a great deal of upside. At 6'10, Bell has a wingspan that stretches well beyond seven feet. Showing tremendous progress in the last two seasons, Bell has the potential to be a solid contributor down the line at Ohio State.
  • Athleticism. Bell is a lanky, but explosive post, that is more than capable to punishing the rim for slams at any given moment. Bell gets up for rebounds, and is a potent shot-blocker.

Weaknesses

  • Consistency. Bell has shown glimpses of greatness throughout the past two years, but also on the same token, moments that make you shake your head. As Ohio State is in desperate need of a difference-making big man, Bell will need to be more consistent in college.
  • Strength. At 215 pounds, Bell is as wiry as they come in the post. While the OSU commit has added on noticeable muscle over the last year, he will need to really bulk up to be serviceable in the Big Ten.
  • Immediate impact. Bell looks to be a player that won't receive any notable minutes until two-to-three years down the line. As Amir Williams is Ohio State's lone returning center, Bell likely won't see action until Williams has graduated.

Class of 2015

While Ohio State's class of 2015 is far from complete, the Buckeyes have two commitments that will be instrumental in building another nationally-ranked class. Let's take a brief look at them below.

Mickey Mitchell (6'7 PF / Plano West, TX)

The No. 5 power forward in the 2015 class, Mitchell is a major piece to what Ohio State hopes to be a top recruiting class. At 6'7, Mitchell is extremely versatile and is one of the nation's top playmakers. Brother of former Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, Mickey pledged to Ohio State last August, and has reaffirmed his commitment, despite the transfer of his older brother. A game-changing playmaker that will attract fellow top players to join him, Mitchell is the key piece to the 2015 class at the moment.

Amos "AJ" Harris (5'9 PG / Dayton Dunbar)

One of the more underrated players nationally in the class of 2015, Harris is an absolute floor general with excellent speed and scoring ability. With great strength and athleticism, Harris is one of the top on-ball defenders in the country, giving opposing point guards fits with the level of defensive pressure that he applies on the ball. On the other end of the floor, Harris is an excellent slasher that finishes well at the rim with contact, while also showing great progression with his perimeter shooting. Playing alongside highly-ranked shooting guard Luke Kennard, and Ohio's top player in the class of 2016, VJ King, with the King James Shooting Stars on the AAU circuit, Harris could play a key factor in luring top prospects to Columbus over the next two years.

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