Ohio State looking strong for 2013-14 season

Five issues and or questions facing Ohio State basketball now that the 2012-13 season is over.

Five issues and or questions facing Ohio State basketball now that the 2012-13 season is over.

1. Deshaun's Decision

The easy choice as the top question of the offseason doesn't have a definite answer. It would 
be a surprise -- but not a total shock -- if Deshaun Thomas returns to Ohio State for his senior season. The Big  Ten's leading scorer in 2012-13 might not be a top-20 pick in June's NBA Draft, but Thomas came to Ohio State intending to use it as a launching pad to the NBA and might not be willing to wait any longer. ohio State should be fine either way. The guess here -- and it's just a guess -- is that Thad Matta expects Thomas to go but would welcome him back. If Thomas does return, Ohio State probably figures as the (very, very early) preseason Big Ten favorite and a top 5-7 team nationally. 

2. Coming Back Stacked

Even if Thomas leaves, Ohio State will likely bring back four  starters plus its potential best
offensive player in LaQuinton Ross and the sec
ond part of a point guard duo Matta likes to play in tandem in Shannon Scott. Leadership should be handled through Aaron Craft and the fact that that Ohio State's top six returnees would be upperclassmen, all of whom now have big-game and big-stage experience. The Buckeyes would again be a very athletic, defensive-minded team comfortable in fast-paced games. The big questions would revolve around replacing the scoring of Thomas (Ross), getting more from the post than the Buckeyes got this season and how much offense Sam Thompson, Craft and Scott could continue to provide after all showed improvement in that area in the stretch run of 2012-13. 

3. Too Soon?

Ross has NBA talent, which he flashed in March. He also has a long, long way to go. He said 
after the Buckeyes' loss in the Elite Eight that he planned to return to school, but no young person should be held to that -- and anything can happen if the wrong person gets the ear of Ross. The bottom line is that he should return, c ontinue to expand his offensive game and grow as a player, and if he takes off he'll have a shot at being a lottery pick in 2014 -- and maybe one of the Big Ten's best players next winter. Conventional wisdom says almost every player who was in that group this season will be headed to the NBA soon, and Ross could maximize his opportunities by returning for and working to maximize his junior season. 

4. Room To Grow

Ohio State still needs to be a better shooting team overall,  and it will need center Amir
Williams to get stronger and grow as an all-around player. The one departing senior, Evan Ravenel, often played bigger minutes than Williams did, and though William
s certainly made strides as a sophomore, he never seemed to put two or three good games together. Craft will have to improve his shot and score more, especially if Thomas leaves, and the onus will be on the likes of Ross, Thompson and Scott to combine their raw talent with the potential and improvement each flashed as sophomores and embrace whatever new opportunities lie ahead. Lenzelle Smith could be asked to do more on the glass and play more of a small forward role if Thomas departs, too. The Buckeyes certainly have pieces. Individual improvement in key areas in the coming months could pay huge dividends for the team next season. 

5. Familiar Faces

Transfer season -- starting soon and running through June, essentially -- has become its own season in today's college basketball landscape. It seems unlikely Ohio State would lose any scholarship players to transfer this year after losing two a year ago, but nothing is certain. It's also too early to know if the Buckeyes will be legitimate contenders/suitors for high-profile transfers (or if any potential transfer would have 2013-14 eligibility), but the Buckeyes could certainly use some post scoring and more shooting. Just two high school class of 2013 graduates are entering the program, 6'8 forward Marc Loving (Ohio's Mr. Basketball) and 6'2 shooting guard Kameron Williams of Baltimore. Both are top-100 recruits nationally, but it's hard to imagine either cracking the starting lineup next season. The Buckeyes will probably bring back either four or five starters, plus Ross and Scott, and will rely on their experience and athleticism in chasing another deep run through the NCAA tournament. The future is bright because talent is in place, Ohio's high school classes of the next three years are talent-rich and Matta has both established the Buckeyes program among the nation's best and positioned it to continue to trend upward. 

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