With 3 starters back and 5 freshmen in the mix, Ohio State not drawing much buzz from fans



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FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2014, file photo, Ohio State coach Thad Matta calls instructions in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb. There’s not a lot of talk about the latest version of the Ohio State’s men’s basketball team as it begins preseason practice. About all anyone would know for certain about coach Thad Matta’s 11th Buckeyes squad is who is not on it: point guard Aaron Craft and leading-scorer LaQuinton Ross. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)


COLUMBUS, Ohio — If fans don't have high expectations for the latest version of Ohio State's men's basketball team, that's OK with the Buckeyes.

"In years past we've heard, 'This team has a chance to be the Big Ten champion,'" point guard Shannon Scott said. "I've heard nothing like that this year. Our job as players is to go out there and prove everybody else wrong and make it happen for each other."

About all anyone would know for certain about coach Thad Matta's 11th Buckeyes squad is who is not on it: point guard Aaron Craft and leading-scorer LaQuinton Ross. Both moved on, the scrappy Craft after graduating and Ross leaving with a year of eligibility remaining.

It's not a shocker that no one knows much about those left behind.

Scott will fill in out front for Craft, with whom he shared the job the last two years. Sam Thompson takes a wing spot opposite Marc Loving. Underneath, enigmatic center Amir Williams returns, helped along by Temple transfer Anthony Lee.

Then there are five acclaimed freshmen who will get a lot of playing time.

Coming off a 25-10 record and an early NCAA tournament knockout, no one really knows what to make of this year's team.

"People say, 'Hey, how are you going to be this year?' And I say, 'Different,'" said Matta, who has won at least 20 games in each of his 14 years as a head coach at Ohio State, Xavier and his alma mater, Butler. "There's a lot of pieces that are back, but those guys (have not) had that consistency throughout. That's the thing we're looking for as we're moving forward, trying to integrate the new players into what we're trying to do but by the same token you want those guys challenging the veterans."

Ross averaged 15.2 points a game a year ago, with the graduated Lenzelle Smith Jr. going for 11 and Craft for just under 10.0. At times, that team depended too much on Ross, a problem that the veterans say they won't duplicate because so many can contribute.

"Obviously, Q was a great scorer. And he drew so much attention," said Thompson, a high-flying dunker who has brings the crowd to its feet but has never dominated a college game. "We've got a lot of guys who can put the ball in the hole, guys who can do a lot of different things on the floor. We've been really working this offseason on putting ourselves in better positions to score and not feeding one person, per se."

One of the biggest shortcomings a year ago — consistent post play — received a jolt in the arm when Lee graduated early from Temple and elected to come to Ohio State for his final year of eligibility.

He should help with the scoring down low and the defense.

"He has a nice, mid-range face-up game and he can score going with his back to the basket," said Loving, who started fast but wilted down the stretch. "I'm looking forward to seeing what he does this year."

Based on their prep resumes, the youngsters should be able to contribute immediately.

The freshmen include swingmen D'Angelo Russell, Jae'Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop, along with big man David Bell and a redshirt, Kam Williams, who never played after getting mononucleosis early last season.

"One of the intriguing factors about this team is going to be how quickly the freshmen can adapt," Matta said. "They're going to have ample opportunity to grow and be thrown to the fire early in the season. Another intriguing thing to me is, what are our four seniors going to do? They've won a ton of games in this program. They've been a part of some great Ohio State memories. How important is that to him and how important is it that they carry it forward?"


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

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