Though the one-and-done culture of college basketball today makes year-to-year continuity feel somewhat like a thing of the past, the Buckeyes find themselves joining the ranks and experiencing turnover on the hardwood this season for the first time in a number of years.
Gone are recent team staples Aaron Craft (Santa Cruz Warriors, D-League) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (Erie Bayhawks, D-League). In are newcomers guard D'Angelo Russell (five-star), forwards Keita Bates-Diop (four-star) and Jae'Sean Tate (four-star), and power forward/center Dave Bell. Kam Williams, who while certainly not a new name, makes his on the court debut after having his freshman season delayed a year due to a preseason bout with mono last season.
Helping the Buckeyes find their sea legs for the season, for the ninth time since 2006-2007, are the Walsh Cavaliers. Walsh are a Division II side hailing from sleepy North Canton, OH. While an NAIA team early in this stretch, the school made the jump to D2 three years ago and became full fledged members of the classification in 2013-14.
When the two teams met around the same time last year, five Buckeyes were in double figures scoring at afternoon's end. LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. led the way with 15 a piece, while Aaron Craft and fellow former Buckeye Amedeo Della Valle (Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia in Serie A in Italy) each added 14. Sam Thompson, who's expected to help pace this year's Buckeye team, is the leading returning scorer from that exhibition with 13.
As is often the case in the lower division ranks, Walsh has decent continuity this season, returning three starters (and 10 letter winners) including arguably their two most important pieces from a team that was co-South Division champs in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference a year ago. The Cavaliers are pegged to finish second behind their fellow co-divisional champs a year ago, Findlay, this season.
Starting point guard Jesse Hardin Jr. (6'2, Jr. from Warren, OH) was named to the first-team All-GLIAC team last season and will look to build on his 18 point showing (8-for-17 from the field, 2-for-6 from three) with Aaron Craft guarding him. He'll likely be shadowed by Shannon Scott who had 9 points and 7 boards a year prior against the Cavs.
Jeff Copeland and former Siena transfer Davonte Beard are also both back. Last November against the Buckeyes, Copeland was limited to just 18 minutes and finished with just 2 points and three boards, while Beard finished with 13 points but was kept off the glass.
Helping to replace senior guard Brad DuPont and Vanderbilt transfer big man Hrvoje Vucic will be Rian Burrell, a junior from Zanesville. Burrell missed the entire 2013-14 season recovering from a knee injury. In 2012-2013, he started 24 games leading the team in minutes per game at 30.3 and was second on the team in scoring with 13.2 points per contest.
Junior guard Chall Montgomery (6'6, Cleveland, OH), a one time Navy transfer, could be a candidate to fill DuPont's place in the starting lineup. After appearing in 28 games a year prior and shooting 52% from the field, he'll battle Burrell for minutes. Sophomore forward Trey Fletcher (6'6, Ironton, OH) had an outstanding freshman season a year ago and should help attempt to make up for Vucic's absence. Fletcher averaged 10.1 points per game on 57% shooting from the field last season.
While there are some new names taking the hardwood for the first time this afternoon for the Buckeyes, there's a good degree of familiarity as well. Shannon Scott will finally get his chance to be the guy with Aaron Craft gone, and a source told Land-Grant Holy Land recently he'd been the team's best player of late. We know Thompson will also be a face of the team and senior leader as well, while Amir Williams, love him or hate him, remains an essential cog to the Buckeyes' 2014-2015 ambitions.
Numbers to know
The Buckeyes begin this season a marked departure from some recent seasons' preseason hype, but maybe that's not entirely a bad thing? Ranked 20th in both major preseason polls, the Buckeyes are pegged to finish anywhere between second and sixth in most Big Ten standings projections, and in the deepest conference in the country with a young but talented core, they could be a lot better by season's end than at the beginning.
Though the Walsh game will be but a tune up, Ohio State is set to take on five ranked teams in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. No. 8 Louisville, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 18 Michigan State, and two dates against arch rivals No. 24 Michigan means this team should be plenty seasoned for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments alike.
While few expect him to be an instant difference maker, freshman Keita Bates-Diop led Ohio State averaging 17 points a game in Ohio State's August exhibition trip to the Bahamas. D'Angelo Russell may get all the headlines in this freshman class, but we've also been told center Dave Bell, though still a likely redshirt candidate, is further along than many had expected as well. Don't sleep on Jae'Sean Tate either.
Cast of characters
The Buckeyes' all superlative everything frosh might not start right away (it's basically a toss up between he and redshirt freshman Kam Williams), but he's too good to keep on the bench for long. With NBA scouts already fawning all over him, Russell could be the key to Ohio State's 2014-2015 season hopes.
We know what Shannon Scott the supplementary guard looks like. But how will a focal point Shannon Scott operate? We might not know for certain until the Buckeyes face Marquette Tuesday, Nov. 18, and perhaps not even then until closer to conference play, but there'll be plenty of doses of a more assertive, better, more mature Scott throughout the 2014-15 campaign.
Jesse Hardin Jr.
Hardin is an instant impact maker for the Cavaliers. A year prior, he averaged 15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, shot 47% from the floor, 41% from three-point, and knocked down 76% of his attempts from the charity stripe. While he probably won't have enough to lead Walsh to an improbable exhibition upset over the Bucks, he could keep Shannon Scott honest for much of the afternoon.
Walsh coach Jeff Young called Copeland one of the best players in the GLIAC with good reason. The all-conference preseason first team honoree averaged 12.4 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 54% from the floor in 2013-2014. His game has a bit of a Lenzelle Smith Jr. flair to it, and regardless of which forward or scoring guard he's matched up against, he's a plucky defender who's more than capable of holding his own.