April 7, 2013

Who will replace Thomas?

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With Deshaun Thomas' decision to leave for the NBA Draft, the Ohio State basketball team now finds itself with a major void on its roster heading into the 2013-14 season. One of the nation's most prolific scorers, the junior forward led the Big Ten with 19.8 points per game this past season.

Replacing Thomas won't be an easy task for Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta- making up for the absence of an All-American never is- but nevertheless, it's something that must be done. Below is a look at the players that Matta will turn to in hopes of making Thomas' departure a little less noticeable.

Junior forward LaQuinton Ross

Ross seems to be the most natural fit to take over for Thomas, and for a number of reasons. For one, like Thomas, Ross is a tall shooter with a knack for finding the basket. At 6-foot-8, he almost seems like a lock to step into Ohio State's starting lineup as the Buckeyes' starting power forward.

The Mississippi native showed flashes of what he's capable of throughout his sophomore season, and particularly in the NCAA Tournament. Ross averaged 15 points per game throughout Ohio State's run to the Elite Eight, and hit the game-winning three-point shot in the Buckeyes' Sweet 16 win against Arizona.

A former four-star prospect, all indications are that the Ohio State offense will run through Ross in the upcoming season. How he responds to his new role will play a key role in determining the success of Matta's 10th team in Columbus.

Junior forward Sam Thompson

While Ross may have garnered most of the attention in the postseason, Thompson slowly had a coming out party of his own this spring. The 6-foot-7 forward spent his entire season as a starter for the Buckeyes, but only averaged 7.8 points per game while deferring to the likes of Thomas, Ross, and Aaron Craft.

That all changed in March, where the Thompson averaged 11 points per game- including career highs of 19 points and 20 points- throughout Ohio State's run to a Big Ten Tournament championship and the Elite Eight. Most impressively, Thompson showcased an improved jump shot this past season, making a team-high 40.4 percent of his three-point attempts.

With Thompson being as athletic as they come, Matta has said that a consistent jumper could make him one of the best players in program history. With his college career at least halfway over and the Buckeyes needing all the scoring that they can get, now's as good of time as any for Thompson to reach that potential.

Senior guard Aaron Craft

For better or worse, Ohio State fans have seen what Craft is capable of on the offensive end on the floor.

On the one hand, there's the player who averaged 20.5 points per game in two wins over Michigan State last season, scored 15 in a win over Indiana in Bloomington, and 18- including a game-winning three-pointer- in an NCAA Tournament victory over Iowa State. On the other is one who struggles mightily with his hitch-filled jump shot, and especially hurt the Buckeyes with his 3-of-15 shooting performance against Duke and a 2-of-12 outing in their Elite Eight loss to Wichita State.

Craft will always be defense-first player, but with the minutes he plays, it's been proven that at the very least, the Buckeyes need him to be efficient on the other end of the floor. With Thomas gone, Craft will be the Buckeyes' top returning scorer next season, and will likely have an even greater burden placed on his shoulders than the one that he carried last year.

Freshman forward Marc Loving

One of two incoming freshmen next season, Loving fits the bill of a player capable of replacing Thomas, but the question is, how soon?

A 6-foot-8 forward, the Toledo native will come to Columbus as Ohio's reigning Mr. Basketball. Loving averaged 22.5 points per game in his senior season at St. John's high school, and like Thomas, matches his size with an excellent shooting stroke.

At 200 pounds, Loving still has a ways to go to match the 225-pound frame that Thomas displayed during his time in Columbus. He might not even crack the rotation right away in his college career, but Loving certainly has the talent to be a long-term solution for Thomas' departure.


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