Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The Carrier Classic is drawing nearer, but Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta still doesn’t know what his starting lineup will be or how many Buckeyes could come off the bench for him this season.
OSU, ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll, begins its season Friday on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown against unranked Marquette in the Carrier Classic in Charleston, S.C. OSU returns three starters – junior forward Deshaun Thomas and junior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. – from the 2011-12 team that finished with a 31-8 overall record on its way to a Final Four appearance.
The players that will fill in the final two starting spots, as well as the number of players Matta will lean on for bench production remains unknown. During a Wednesday press conference, Matta said this year’s team has many lineup possibilities.
“You have to look and say, who gives us the best chance to start the game well,” Matta said. “I may not start the five best players, but I’m going to start the five guys that play the best together. And that’s usually how we finish the game as well … This could be a team where we start 20 different starting lineups.”
In the Buckeyes’ Oct. 29 tune-up game against Walsh, Matta used nine different combinations of players in the opening 20 minutes, and every scholarship player except junior guard Alex Rogers saw time. Perhaps due to the closer-than-expected outcome – OSU beat the Division II team, 83-71 – Rogers never made it into the game, nor did walk-on sophomore forward Jake Lorbach and walk-on junior guard Andrew Goldstein
Despite using 10 men in the game against Walsh, Matta said he’s isn’t sure about what kind of help the bench can provide.
“I hope that we’ve got three or four guys coming off the bench that can make an impact somehow, some way,” Matta said.
Matta went with a towering starting lineup against Walsh, choosing Thomas, Smith Jr., Craft, 6-foot-8 sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross and 6-foot-11 sophomore center Amir Williams for the start. Sophomore forward Sam Thompson did not start in the game as some had expected, and senior forward Evan Ravenel was excluded from the starting lineup as well.
Matta said on Wednesday that he’s still unsure which player he prefers between Ross and Thompson.
“With two days still to go, I don’t know for sure who will be starting. I think Sam has vastly improved his offensive skills. LaQuinton, kind of along the same lines, his defensive awareness, we’ve seen him doing things he hadn’t done in the past defensively,” Matta said. “He’s talking more, he’s seeing things, he’s seeing help, he’s reacting better. (Ross) can definitely put the ball in the basket, which is very advantageous for us.”
OSU is scheduled to tip its Friday game against Marquette at 7 p.m.
Evan Speyer contributed to this article.