Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
It feels like depth has always been an issue for Thad Matta-coached basketball teams.
It’s not that the Ohio State players who are on the bench aren’t talented, but more that those players on the bench stay on the bench.
Matta has a tendency to find a few guys that he really trusts, usually five or six guys, and rotate that small group instead of giving them a rest and letting younger players grow. Although Matta’s success here at OSU can’t be questioned, his system has started to show its weakness in recent seasons when fatigue begins to set in during the NCAA Tournament.
This year though, that formula has changed out of necessity rather than revelation. Matta has been swapping about eight players consistently, with three players – junior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and junior forward Deshaun Thomas – averaging about 30 minutes a game.
But outside of Thomas, the Buckeyes don’t have a consistent second scoring threat. A few players have stepped into the role on a game-by-game basis (like Craft, Smith Jr. or sophomore forward Sam Thompson) but aren’t able to keep it up over an extended stretch.
It is a perplexing problem, but many fans think they have the solution.
Sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross has been singled out by some fans for his natural scoring ability as the obvious choice to take some of the pressure off of Thomas’ shoulders.
Against Wisconsin Tuesday, Ross totaled eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.
For the most part, Matta has remained defiant and Ross continues to sit on the bench for many of OSU’s contests this season.
Ross is only averaging 17 minutes a game, despite being second on the team behind Thomas in terms of scoring efficiency. And while, relatively, Ross’ time on the court isn’t anything to snicker at, it’s not reflective of a player with the potential to be an elite scorer.
But why wouldn’t Matta play Ross if OSU is so desperate for a second option? Thomas can’t carry the team on his own forever.
Although the fans have a point about Ross being a talented scorer, the problems with Ross might outweigh the rewards.
As good as Ross is on offense, he is equally bad on defense. It is hard to imagine that on an OSU team, a squad that has been known for its defense since Matta took over the program in 2004, that someone who is such a defensive liability would get significant playing time.
Notice during the final five or so minutes how rare it is for Ross to receive minutes. He might aid in games during the middle stretches, but never starts and never closes, a sign of Matta’s lack of trust in the young forward.
Although his outing against the Badgers shows marked improvement, it is still not enough to convince Matta to give Ross a more significant role. He might see more playing time come his way during certain games this season, but don’t expect for him to play vital minutes against Michigan Tuesday or Indiana on Feb. 10.
For the Buckeyes to make a run in the NCAA Tournament similar to last season’s, they need someone to come out of the woodwork to help Thomas. Ross might be that guy someday. But for now? He’s not quite the answer.