Marc Loving was Ohio State's lone freshman rotation player this year after an early injury convinced the Buckeyes to redshirt Kam Williams. Given what was in front of him on the depth chart, that alone is an accomplishment. However, he seemed to hit the freshman wall midway through the season and was particularly weak during Ohio State's stretch run towards the NCAA Tournament. What should be expected of the freshman next season? Let's take a look at this season to get some ideas there.
Previous Season Stats: N/A, freshman.
2013-14 Stats: 4.4 points, 1.7 rebounds, 36.8% FG%, 25.9% 3P%, 51.2% TS%, 10.9 minutes per game.
2013-14 Per-40 Stats: 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.6 steals
It seems I was a bit more down on Loving's ability to step in and play immediately than Matta was, given that Loving got run in every single Ohio State game this season.
One would think that Loving won't play much this season. Coach Thad Matta tends to ride his starters, and Loving seems to overlap with both LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson. Ohio State might get a chance to see what Loving can do early in the season with their weak non-conference schedule, and if he shoots well and others play poorly he MIGHT be able to carve a small role as a floor stretcher. Remember, this team does have to find someone who, along with an increase in Amir Williams' minutes, will replace Evan Ravenel's 17 minutes per game. Ultimately, we'll probably have to wait until 2014-15 to see what the future holds with him, but there is an outside chance he sees minutes as the season progresses.
Having said that, as his shot started to waver, his minutes did start to decrease near the end of the season. In the final eight games of the season, he played eight minutes or fewer after playing eight minutes or more in 14 of the previous 15 games.
Loving's best game was probably the early conference season shellacking of Nebraska, where he scored 13 points and pulled down five rebounds in 17 minutes. That was where we really saw Loving play aggressive for the first time as a Buckeye, as all of his points either came from inside of 10 feet or from the foul line. Loving has a smooth jumper, but he's at his best when he's looking to attack the rim and get to the line, where he can take advantage of his excellent free throw shooting ability. I expect this to be more of the case next season as he gets stronger and steps into a larger role with LaQuinton Ross out of the fray.
It wasn't really the tale of one poor game for Loving. Instead, it was just the continued and consistent invisibility he showed as the Big Ten season progressed. In late season losses to Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana, Loving played only 14 combined minutes and attempted five shots, making none. His 19% three-point percentage during Big Ten play is indicative more of his youth than of his actual shooting ability, which seems to be high. Simply put, once Loving started to struggle, it seemed like he started to simultaneously press and become tentative instead of just going out and playing.
Having said that, Loving's maiden voyage in Scarlet and Grey should probably be considered a minor success. He played in every game and semi-important minutes in every game, which is going to be important for his continued development. Despite his low shooting percentages, Loving showed off what seems to be a soft jump shot that should fall more as he plays more. I was also impressed with his defensive performance for a freshman. By that, I mean that Loving wasn't a complete mess on that end despite his under-developed frame and slightly slower feet combo-forward. As he puts on some muscle and adds strength, that should combine with his length to create a solid defensive player for Coach Matta's system.
Next year is an important year for Loving. With other, "more highly-regarded-by-recruiting-services" combo-forwards coming in like Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate, Loving will need to use the offseason to improve his game in order to be the guy who helps replace Ross's production. One of the things that we didn't get to see from Loving this season was his passing and playmaking ability, as he was used primarily in a spot-up role on offense. Allowing him to operate more from the high post should let him become a bit more comfortable within the offense. It's also important for Loving to work on his three-point range, as that's one way that he can differentiate himself from Thompson, Tate, and Bates-Diop. Thompson has solid range, but mostly that's from the corners. Loving can legitimately be a major threat from beyond the arc with his fluid shooting stroke, and the Buckeyes will need all of the floor spacing they can get next season with Shannon Scott and Amir Williams in the starting lineup.
I have cautiously optimistic hopes for Loving next season, but he'll need to work hard to ensure that he isn't passed on the depth chart.