The basketball Buckeyes flirted with their high potential this season, knocking off Indiana and Maryland in consecutive games, cementing their standing in the NCAA tournament. Since then, however, they lost Marc Loving to a multi-game suspension, dropped winnable road games at Purdue and Michigan State, and barring some huge run in the Big Ten Tournament, are unlikely to grab an NCAA tournament seed that will set up a deep tournament run. When you've got a likely top-five NBA lottery pick at the two guard, anything is possible, but it's looking more and more like Ohio State will grab something between a seven or a 10 seed, making a run into the second weekend difficult. Not impossible, of course, but difficult.
A regression of sorts from last season, even with the prodigious talents of D'Angelo Russell, may be disappointing, but not totally unexpected. Ohio State lost one of their best (if occasionally inconsistent and immature) scorers in LaQuinton Ross, and their best perimeter defender in years, if not ever, in Aaron Craft. That's led to a weird gap in the roster, with four seniors, and a huge cadre of underclassmen, most of which are carrying the offensive load for the Buckeyes. When you add that to an unproductive backcourt, you get inconsistent play.
The good thing about carrying a load of freshman is that they become sophomores. The Buckeyes have also been hitting the recruiting trail hard, and are projected to bring in another top 10 recruiting class, and they might not be done yet. What might next year's team look like, and can they improve on this season?
A.J. Harris (Freshman)
Jaquan Lyle (Freshman)
This is perhaps the most unbalanced position on the roster, since there won't be an incumbent point guard left on the roster after the graduation of Shannon Scott, and with Russell going to the NBA Draft. A.J. Harris, the true point guard of the two, is a composite four-star out of Dayton Dunbar, and picked the Buckeyes early in his recruitment process before some bigger offers might have come in (he still had offers from Boston College, Dayton and Xavier). Harris has great vision and high upside, but he's also really small (listed at 5'9, 160 pounds). There's always a bit of a learning curve to the point guard spot, and even with Thad Matta's notoriously short bench, it's unlikely Harris is going to play all 40 minutes.
Lyle is probably the best bet to see some ball handling time here, even though the 6'5 Lyle is much more of a combo guard, closer to where Russell is, in a positional sense. It's also not impossible that Matta brings in another point guard for this class, but it's more likely that the scholarship is rolled over to 2016.
Kam Williams (RS Sophomore)
Austin Grandstaff (Freshman)
Lyle will undoubtedly see time at this position as well, but if I had to guess, I'd assume that Kam Williams is most likely to be the starter on opening night given his longevity with the program. All three of these guys can shoot the ball (Grandstaff already has a 50-point game from high school), and if Williams can improve his defense enough to stay on the court longer, the shooting ability of these three could go a long way toward solving issues with spacing and consistency with the program. Grandstaff's game projects to be closer to say, Jon Diebler than D'Angelo, but Ohio State needs those kinds of players too.
Keita Bates-Diop (Sophomore)
Mickey Mitchell (Freshman)
The forward positions are a little fluid on this roster, as either Marc Loving or Jae'Sean Tate could technically see time at this spot; Ohio State could even decide to go with three guards if they wanted. Bates-Diop filled in nicely for Marc Loving during his recent suspension, after mostly falling out of the rotation during Big Ten play. He's got room to grow, and as he develops his shooting range and awareness on the court, he could be a very useful rotational player next season. Mitchell has very exciting athletic and ball-handling ability, but also struggled with injuries in high school. If he's healthy, he could play quite a bit, but I suspect it's more likely he fades out of the rotation during competitive Big Ten play during his freshman campaign.
Marc Loving (Junior)
Jae'Sean Tate (Sophomore)
It's crazy that baring any graduate transfer pickups, Marc Loving will be the only upperclassmen on next year's team, and as such, may need to be counted on as one of the bigger scorers night-in and night-out. Loving has shown flashes of a superior shooting stroke and above-the-rim ability, but could improve with his defense and consistency. Tate's relentless energy and motor have been revelations for the team this year, and while he's also still pretty raw (and undersized for this position), it's easy to see how Tate could become a lot of fan's favorite Buckeye next year.
Daniel Giddens (Freshman)
Trevor Thompson (RS Sophomore)
Dave Bell (RS Freshman)
Of all of Ohio State's highly regarded freshman, perhaps the one worth getting the most excited about is Dan Giddens, a composite four-star who brings an athletic 6'10 frame to Ohio State's frontcourt. Giddens will need a lot of work on offense, but he projects to bring a defensive intensity and awareness that has been lacking down low for the past few seasons. He's not a finished product by any means, but the potential is there, and he should be able to contribute right away. He'll split time with Trevor Thompson, a 6'11 big man who sat out this season after transferring from Virginia Tech. After a year of practice and learning Matta's system, Thompson should be in the rotation, and based off his tenure with Virginia Tech, should be able to score at least a little bit. Dave Bell redshirted this season and likely won't be pressed into too much action, but could jump in should Thompson get injured or struggle badly.
Shannon Scott (PG), Sam Thompson (PF), Amir Williams (C), Anthony Lee (C), Trey McDonald (C) and probably D'Angelo Russell (SG)
Those are a lot of front court bodies, making next year's Ohio State team an extremely young one. Depending on who appears on the transfer market, bringing in another point guard or more traditional low post scoring option isn't impossible, but also not required. Ohio State will also have some scholarships open to go after big names in 2016, like Ohio big men Derek Funderburk or Nick Ward, or five-star wing V.J King.
Whether next year's squad will be better depends almost entirely on player development, as the 2015 Ohio State recruiting class transitions into larger roles, and whether some of these highly regarded freshman will pan out. With a difficult conference schedule and a tough Big Ten, they'll need to improve quickly.
In the meantime though, there's still plenty of time for this year's Ohio State squad to make some moves. And if nothing else, there's time to appreciate D'Angelo Russell.