Monday's game against Penn State featured Ohio State's most outlandish starting lineup of the season. After one of his most underwhelming performances of the season at Purdue, point guard JaQuan Lyle sat in favor of A.J. Harris. Additionally, Daniel Giddens made his fourth start of the season, taking over the role of center from Trevor Thompson. The lineup change paid off for coach Thad Matta and his gang, as the Buckeyes went on to rout the Nittany Lions by 20.
Coming off the big victory, it's fair to ask the question "should the Buckeyes move forward with this lineup?". However, after a one game sample, especially one against a clearly inferior opponent, we shouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusions. Still, there's data out there that might suggest a change in the starting rotation.
Harris made the first start of his collegiate career on Monday night, and dished out four assists to go along with four points. He also played a career-high 20 minutes, while Lyle only played 18. On the surface, Harris gave the Buckeyes a spark, but if you look past the basic numbers, you'll see that Lyle still proved to be more productive. Harris shot 2-7 from the floor, good for a true shooting percentage (TS%) of .286. He led the team in assist percentage (AST%) at 40-percent, but only contributed an offensive rating (ORtg) of 78. On defense, he produced a defensive rating (DRtg) of 76, which is good, but was tied for third worst on the team behind Lyle (77), and Joey Lane (79 in one minute of playing time, so be cautious of the sample size).
For those unfamiliar with offensive and defensive rating, it's a rate stat that shows how many points a player contributes to or allows per 100 possessions. The average is set at 100 points, and if a player contributes to over 100 on the offensive end, that's considered a good game. If he allows over 100 on the defensive end, that isn't good.
While Lyle's defensive rating was worse than Harris', his offensive rating blew it out of the water. In 18 minutes, he contributed an ORtg of 119, behind two three pointers and an assist. With that being said, his usage rate (USG%) was only 12-percent, while Harris' was 22-percent. Despite getting the win on Monday, these numbers are backed up by the rest of the season. For the season, Harris has an ORtg of 88.5, which is better than his game against Penn State, but not better than Lyle's of 96.2. On the other side of the ball, Lyle has also been a bit better of a defender with a DRtg of 97.7, compared to Harris' 100.3. On the whole, Lyle is a better option, producing .097 win shares per 40 minutes (WS/40), while Harris has the lowest on the team for a player that's played in every game with .055.
Giddens starting over Thompson is another curious case that numbers can dispute. Giddens is a defensive minded freshman who leads the team with 39 blocks. He undoubtedly played a great game against the Nittany Lions, grabbing nine rebounds while shooting 2-2 from the field. His advanced metric back that up, tallying an ORtg of 122, and a DRtg of 66. Thompson, on the other hand, did not have much an offensive night. He went 0-2 from the floor, and put up an ORtg of 0, but had a very good DRtg of 53 in 11 minutes played.
Still, Thompson has been one of the unsung heroes of this year's team. He is truly the guy that does the team's dirty work. His true rebound percentage (TR%) is 16.4, and his DRtg is 90.2, both which lead the team. He's also been sneaky good on the offensive end thanks to his team-leading 36 offensive rebounds, and has put together an ORtg of 111.9. Despite making only four starts, Giddens has played two more minutes on the season than Thompson (355 to 353). Giddens is a great defender, with the third best DRtg on the team at 91.1, but his offensive game still needs to be polished. Thompson has been a model of efficiency for the Buckeyes, leading to a WS/40 of .176. Giddens is getting better, and his WS/40 of .102 is solid, but until he can develop on the offensive end, Thompson deserves the spot as the leading man in the middle.
The consistent cogs in OSU's lineup this year have been Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate, who lead the team in win shares (WS) with 2.6 and 2.2, respectively. Marc Loving leads the team with 697 minutes played, and is third on the team in WS with 1.8, but his WS/40 of .104 ranks sixth. Loving has been the team's top scoring option this season, as he leads the Buckeyes with nearly 14 points per game.
It's not everyday someone suggests to bench a team's leading scorer, yet here I go. Since the start of conference play, Kam Williams has outplayed Loving, and may have earned himself a shot to slide into the starting rotation. Since Big Ten play began, Williams is leading the team with 0.7 WS, and .154 WS/40. Loving, on the other hand, has only contributed 0.3 WS in nearly 70 more minutes of playing time, good for a .052 WS/40, which comes in at ninth on the team.
Williams has proven he can knock down the three ball with the best of them, and his defense has also steadily improved since the start of conference play. This isn't to say that Loving deserves to have his minutes decreased substantially; he's still one of the team's best scoring options. However, Williams is a better defender despite his size compared to Loving, and leads the team in TS% on the season and since the start of Big Ten play. Going forward, if Matta intends to make a change in the starting rotation, Williams in for Loving is the most reasonable substitution.