Nearly every time Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has been asked about his team this offseason, he has used the word "different." It's a different team than the past couple of seasons, with a different style of play, and different players that are going to be relied upon to lead and produce. How successful the Buckeyes are in 2014-15 will be largely dependent on how different one of those new leaders can be: Shannon Scott.
The face of Ohio State basketball the past few seasons has undoubtedly been Aaron Craft. The rosy-cheeked guard with relentless defense and an ugly shot was one of the most polarizing players in the country. The attention Craft received allowed fellow point guard Scott to fly a bit more under the radar than most former McDonald's All-Americans.
Now a senior, Scott will play the role of veteran leader among Ohio State's guards, as he will be joined by a pair of youngsters entering their first seasons of college ball.
"I was in that position three years ago, not always sure what was going on, and I was always able to look up to older guys and ask them what I should be doing," Scott said at Ohio State's media day. "I now strive to be that role model for them on and off the court."
The Buckeyes are Scott's team, and they'll go as far as he takes them.
Last season's stats (junior): 7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2 steals in 26.8 minutes per game
A look back:
Scott began last season in the starting lineup, and stayed there for the first 21 games. A rough stretch for the Buckeyes in Big Ten play prompted Matta to move him to a reserve role, though the minutes were similar. Scott got off to a strong start offensively, scoring in double figures in three of the Buckeyes' first four games, but cooled off from the perimeter and began to defer more often as the non-conference schedule progressed. It was eight games before he hit double figures again. Scott also notched 18 and 13, respectively, in the first two Big Ten games, but only reached 10 or more twice more in the regular season. The Alpharetta, Georgia native did improve his scoring, rebounding, and shooting percentages for the third consecutive year despite this inconsistency.
Scott gave a glimpse of just how special his talents can be in the Big Ten tournament semifinal game against Michigan. In a 72-69 loss to the Wolverines, he knocked down shots, drove the lane, set up his teammates, and just generally got after it to the tune of 18 points, five rebounds, six assists, and three steals. He shot 7-10 from the field, including 4-6 from three-point range, and keyed a Buckeye comeback in a game in which the team trailed 15-2 early and by double digits for most of the second half. Scott couldn't keep it going in Ohio State's NCAA tourney loss to Dayton, though, shooting just 1-6 for three points, adding four boards, four dimes, and two steals in 27 minutes.
Scott made his second straight All-Big Ten Defensive team at the end of the season after placing second in the conference to Craft in steals.
Outlook for 2014-15:
Admittedly, I may be a little higher on Scott than most people. While there is no arguing that the former McDonald's All-American has underachieved during his three years at Ohio State, this will be the first season in which the team is truly his to run. In order to make the kind of jump in his game that Ohio State has been waiting for since he arrived on campus, he will need to find consistency in his outside shooting, use his athleticism to get into the lane more frequently on offense, and continue progressing as a defender.
"He needs to step out of the supportive role and be more aggressive in terms of what we're trying to accomplish," Matta said.
This is no knock on Yogi Ferrell, DeAndre Mathieu, or Traevon Jackson, but I believe Scott has the physical gifts to become the best point guard in the Big Ten. The talent is evident. The question is whether he can put it all together in his final year for Ohio State and begin to reach his immense potential. If he does, he will not only prove himself to be the cream of the Big Ten's point guard crop, but will help the Buckeyes contend in the conference and beyond.
The early reviews from practice as the Buckeyes prepare to tip off the season have been very positive. A source close to the basketball team tells Land-Grant Holy Land that Scott has been the best player on the team of late. Taking on that sort of role is a challenge Scott knows he must meet head on.
"We had the feeling of being in the Final Four and then losing in the first round, so we kinda have an understanding of what both feelings are, and we know how much losing in the first round really sucks and how much that really hurt us," he said at Big Ten Media Day. "We didn't wanna watch any game after that, so as a point guard, as the leader of this team, I've really gotta get my team in the best position to get back to the Final Four and go from there."
Best Case Scenario:
Scott has the physical tools to become an all-conference type of player, with elite speed, a good handle, a quick first step, and strong defensive instincts, but needs to find consistency in his outside shooting and overall aggressiveness in order to live up to Matta's expectations.
"I want Shannon to run this basketball team. I want Shannon to play with no fear. I want Shannon to play consistently," Matta said. "The ups, the downs he's had in his career, hopefully those things are behind him."
If Scott can put those ups and downs behind him and be solid night in and night out, he could well find his way onto the all-conference team and into the second round of the NBA Draft. Already a solid defender, there have been several predictions of Scott succeeding Craft as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as well.
That kind of season from the Buckeyes' point guard would likely lead to a much deeper postseason run than a year ago.
Worst Case Scenario:
The worst case scenario would be for Scott to languish as a leader and show no progress in his offensive efficiency. As fans of the scarlet and gray have seen far too often the past couple of seasons, a point guard who is not a threat to put the ball through the basket from the perimeter leads to stagnation and the opposition packing the paint. While the Buckeyes should be a much better shooting team this season with the additions of newcomers like D'Angelo Russell, Kam Williams, and Keita Bates-Diop, Scott is the one who must set the tempo. If he looks too much like Craft in that regard, it could be a long season with another underachieving conclusion.