Sports

Ohio State and coach Thad Matta will rely on some veterans and a lot of freshmen in new season

  • FILE - In this March 14, 2014, file photo, Ohio State forward Sam Thompson dunks during NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Thompson thinks the 2014-15 team is one of the best teams he's been on since he's been at Ohio State. It has some competition from his freshman year team just because it went to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

    FILE - In this March 14, 2014, file photo, Ohio State forward Sam Thompson dunks during NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Thompson thinks the 2014-15 team is one of the best teams he's been on since he's been at Ohio State. It has some competition from his freshman year team just because it went to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this March 15, 2014, file photo, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta talks to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Matta says he likes his 2014-15 club, even though he only has two returning starters from last season's team. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

    FILE - In this March 15, 2014, file photo, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta talks to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Matta says he likes his 2014-15 club, even though he only has two returning starters from last season's team. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this March 15, 2014, file photo, Ohio State center Amir Williams (23) drives to basket against Michigan forward Jon Horford (15) and guard Caris LeVert (23) during the semifinals of the NCAA Big Ten basketball tournament in Indianapolis. Williams and Sam Thompson are the Buckeyes' only returning starters as they prepare to start the 2014-15 season. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

    FILE - In this March 15, 2014, file photo, Ohio State center Amir Williams (23) drives to basket against Michigan forward Jon Horford (15) and guard Caris LeVert (23) during the semifinals of the NCAA Big Ten basketball tournament in Indianapolis. Williams and Sam Thompson are the Buckeyes' only returning starters as they prepare to start the 2014-15 season. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)  (The Associated Press)

Sam Thompson is an easy-going guy.

The Ohio State swingman smiles a lot, likes talking and has a lot of friends.

But mention that some think this might not be a great Buckeyes team and he clearly grows agitated.

"No. I don't agree at all," he said, an edge to his voice. "This is one of the best teams I've been on since I've been here. It has some competition from my freshman year team just because it went to the Final Four. But we have a great team this year."

Attempt to replace 57 percent of the points, 66 percent of the 3-pointers, 60 percent of the assists and 55 percent of the steals from most teams and it would be a reasonable expectation that there would be a falloff.

Yet at Ohio State — with starters LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft and top sub Amedeo Della Valle all moving on — there are high hopes.

Here are some things to keep an eye on with the young Buckeyes as they open at home Nov. 14 against UMass-Lowell:

PENCIL IN 20: The Buckeyes, picked third in the Big Ten by reporters, are led by coach Thad Matta. In all 14 of his seasons as a head coach, his teams have won at least 20 games.

And Matta likes this 2014-15 club.

"It's an interesting collection of guys," he said. "In terms of the expectations, I don't know if I have it set in stone what I'm expecting. There's going to be a growth period, but we have to accelerate the growth. We have to push guys. We always tell guys going into (a season), 'Those that don't get onboard get left behind.'"

LOTS OF BODIES: The Buckeyes have two returning starters: 6-foot-7 dunking machine Thompson and enigmatic 6-11 post Amir Williams. Shannon Scott steps right in at the point in place of whirling-dervish Craft. Anthony Lee, who graduated from Temple early and is playing his final season of eligibility with the Buckeyes, will likely be the power forward.

Rotating into those spots and the fifth starting spot will be freshmen D'Angelo Russell, Jae'Sean Tate, David Bell, Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams along with last year's sixth man Marc Loving, and backup big man Trey McDonald.

WHERE THE POINTS ARE: The Buckeyes lost their top three scorers. Still, for most of last year it seemed four players stood around and watched Ross — who led the team with 15.2 points per game — play one-on-five when they needed a basket.

"We have a well-balanced group," said Loving, who started fast and then fizzled a year ago as a freshman. "Shannon and Sam can score, you can throw the ball into Amir. We have a lot of weapons and you really have to pick your poison of who you want to stop."

One guess: Russell, a gifted scorer as a prepster in Louisville, Kentucky, will provide some of the punch, along with classmate Tate, the son of former Buckeye center Jermaine Tate.

94-FOOT PRESSURE: The Buckeyes, who went 25-10 last year and got knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round by Dayton, relied on the physical play of Craft to set the tempo on defense.

This figures to be a far more athletic team that can press and run all over the court.

"Our defense is probably the best in the Big Ten, I would say," Williams said. "I feel like everyone can defend their position, and multiple positions."

That should give Matta more flexibility and allow for more trapping.

UNFAMILIAR FACES: Thompson, Williams and Scott have played a lot but have frequently been hidden in the shadow of bigger names such as Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Ross and Craft.

If no one knows much about the current Buckeyes, that's fine with them.

"From my junior, sophomore and freshman years, we'd be hearing so much about Buckeye basketball, what we're going to bring to the table and all that stuff," Scott said. "I haven't really heard that much about it this year. Personally, I'm kind of a fan of that. We can just go out on the court now and play our game and prove everybody wrong. So it's going to be fun for us."

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