Way back in May, Tim Shoemaker wrote on 11 Warriors about his predictions for the 2015-2016 Ohio State men’s basketball starting lineup. Since then, I have no additional inside information on who will start for the Buckeyes, but it’s been on my mind as the season creeps up on us so I thought I would share my best guess. Click the image below to view an interactive graphic displaying my projected starting lineup for the Buckeyes this season.
PG: JaQuan Lyle, Freshman
As Tim mentions, one of the biggest challenges for this team is going to be overcoming the loss of their best playmaker last year and the 2nd overall pick in the NBA draft. Russell was an incredible shot creator for himself and teammates and a lot of college basketball games are won and lost on the shoulders of playmaking guards.
4-star recruit JaQuan Lyle figures to be a guy who can carry that load on offense. At 6-5 and 220 pounds, Lyle has the size and strength to get into the lane and finish around the rim. He’s also shown a shooting touch which will be key for a team that has some potential to spread the floor with shooters at multiple positions.
Lyle looks like a combo guard in the mold of Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns. I think the comp fits well as I predict Matta to expect Lyle to push the ball in transition or settle down and set up the offense, but also play off the ball at the 2. Based on the video I’ve seen of him, he will be very capable in filling that role.
Behind him is likely another freshman PG A.J. Harris. Harris is more of a traditional PG. He has some slick handles and a pretty-looking stroke. His quickness and ability to penetrate the defense should have him see some significant playing time either sharing the backcourt with Lyle or someone else.
Aside: I should also mention Lyle has admitted involvement in the Louisville recruitment scandal during the time that he was being recruited by their program, but it should not affect his eligibility.
SG: Kam William, Sophomore
I’m not going to lie, I was shocked at how well Kam Williams played last year. Early in the season he did not look like he was ready to play against Big Ten competition, let alone the NCAA tournament. His shot always looks rushed and he was shooting from a step inside the line early on. I would have said there was no way he should be getting playing time against a quality opponent, but he extended his range and brought a ton of energy on defense.
Matta is going to be asking a lot from Williams this year. He’ll be sharing the backcourt with mostly freshman and he’ll be asked to guard the opposition’s best ballhandler on most nights. He’ll also have to continue to make open shots when he gets them, but the next phase of his game is being able to shot fake and make something happen once he gets in the teeth of the defense. Right now, he doesn’t have Russell’s vision and can get lost in the sea of bodies down low. If he can learn to use his quickness to get an edge on big men providing help defense, he should be able to draw a lot of fouls and create open shots for his teammates.
Backing up Kam is another freshman, Austin Grandstaff. Grandstaff is known for elite shooting and once he gets comfortable with the pace of the college game, he should see some floor time as a space-creating spot shooter.
SF: Marc Loving, Junior
I went to high school with Marc Loving so I’ve watched him closely over his tenure at Ohio State. I could probably write 1,000 words on how he’s evolved as a player over his career at Ohio State, but I’ll try to keep it brief. Loving has always had a smooth stroke from outside and I think Matta gives him the 3 spot to extend the floor with his shooting and provide a veteran presence.
Loving isn’t a vocal leader and it will be interesting to see how he interacts with his teammates as the elder statesman on a young team. The only issue I see with Loving is the precipitous drop-off in production he saw after his 3 game suspension last year. Look at his before and after splits.
Stats via sports-reference
Loving was maybe the best shooter in the NCAA before his suspension, and although many of those looks were created for him by Russell, he’s money if he gets enough time to get his shot off. Pre-suspension Loving is a valuable player and the Buckeyes need him in order to succeed.
There’s so much to say about how Loving could evolve as a scorer, but I think the most important for his development will be to figure out what to do when he has to put the ball on floor. He never looks really comfortable dribbling and usually meanders into a difficult floater or jumps straight into a big man in hopes of drawing a foul. I would like to see Marc use his deadly shooting ability as a weapon like Steph Curry and Kyle Korver – pump fake, take one dribble to the side or forward, hoist it, and laugh at the suckers who flew by as the leather gracefully dips into the nylon.
I expect a lot from Loving as I always do considering he’s reppin’ my alma mater, the SJJ Titans. The talent is there, he just needs to put all the pieces together.
Behind Loving is Keita Bates-Diop who showed flashes of high-energy defense and great spot-up shooting late in the year. I thought he always had a useful skill set and was surprised that he didn’t play more early on, but I think he will usually be the first off the bench and could be very valuable as a shut down wing defender.
PF: Jae’Sean Tate, Sophomore
Tate was a revelation and a fan-favorite as a freshman last year. You could tell immediately that he wasn’t afraid to body guys and bang down low with the big boys. Despite being only a 6’4 PF, Tate finished in rebounds per game rebounder last year. The crowd always appreciated his toughness, hustle, and grit and he got the team fired up in a lot of games that they looked sluggish.
Tate’s height doesn’t make him an ideal power forward, but his tremendous lower body strength makes him more than capable of guarding bigger dudes on the block. As Draymond Green showed last year, you don’t need height to be a stud defender at the 4. Green is the ideal comp for Jae’Sean and he has the raw skills to develop into a similar player. The toughness is there, he justs need to consistently display the shooting touch and smart passing that he showed in very brief glimpses last year.
Tate already looked like he’s going to be a classic Matta grit guy in the mold of Lighty and Craft. If he can fine-tune those skills that are a little rough around the edges, he should have a great career as a Buckeye.
Mickey Mitchell, a freshman, could spend some time at the 4, but I predict Matta to use Loving or KBD as a stretch 4 when Jae’Sean sits.
C: Trevor Thompson, Sophomore
Trevor Thompson is a 6’11, second-year transfer from Virginia Tech. We don’t know much about him seeing as he sat out last year. From what I’ve seen of him during his freshman year at Virginia Tech and during warmups last year (yes – I will make assumptions based on warmups), he’s slender, long, and has some ball skills.
He looks like he has potential as a rim protector and, unlike Amir Williams, looks like he is capable of catching a basketball. I think there is a lot of potential for Thompson to dramatically increase our production from the center position. Amir “The Fear” Williams was a negative every time on floor except for the approximately one good game he had per year. If Thompson can finish around the rim, clear the boards, and provide some rim protection, this team could be better than expected just by getting consistent effort from the 5 spot.
David Bell and Daniel Giddens are the only other listed Centers on the roster. Bell redshirted last while GIddens is a true freshmen which leads me to believe Bell will get the nod at backup. Bell and Giddens look bad from what I’ve seen so far, but they have potential to get better. Tate is capable of holding down the fort at Center for short stretches a lá Draymond Green.
How Wrong Will I Be?
That’s my best guess at each position. I expect to be completely wrong when the Buckeyes take the floor against Walsh on November 8, but I think this is what we might see when conference play finally rolls around. Let me know what you think in the comments.