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Opinion: Ohio State men’s basketball team has pieces to replace 4 transfers

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OSU sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate (1) looks to make a pass during a game against Northern Illinois on Dec. 16 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won 64-57. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

OSU sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate (1) looks to make a pass during a game against Northern Illinois on Dec. 16 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won 64-57.
Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

Without a single graduating senior, the Ohio State men’s basketball program has still managed to undergo its fair share of roster turnover since the season ended.

Shortly after losing to Florida in the second round of the NIT, a trio of freshmen Buckeyes announced their intentions to transfer: forward Mickey Mitchell, guard A.J. Harris and center Daniel Giddens. Another freshman, guard Austin Grandstaff, transferred to Oklahoma in December, leaving OSU with one remaining player from its 2015 class in guard JaQuan Lyle.

Despite the departures, coach Thad Matta welcomes back the main core of last season’s team with forwards Marc Loving, Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop joined by Lyle and guard Kam Williams. Center Trevor Thompson entered his name into the NBA draft, but given that he did not hire an agent and is not expected to be selected, he’ll likely return to school.

Even though OSU should return its top six scorers, much of the depth it had last season is gone. Combined, the three most recent transfers only averaged 8.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, but each logged valuable minutes off the bench as role players.

On a squad that didn’t have much of a presence in the post, Giddens was the team’s leading shot blocker (1.5 per game) and was widely praised for the energy he brought to the floor.

Harris was one of only five OSU players to play in all 35 games and served as the backup point guard to Lyle, even cracking the starting lineup in four games in the middle of the season. Without him, there are some serious questions of depth at guard.

Finally, Mitchell started the last seven games of the season after Tate was lost due to a left shoulder injury. He struggled to put the ball in the basket, but the former four-star recruit provided versatility with his passing and rebounding.

How will Matta and the Buckeyes go about replacing what was lost?

To help in the frontcourt, the program has a duo of incoming freshmen from Ohio.

Derek Funderburk, originally from Lakewood, Ohio, is the highest-rated recruit in OSU’s 2016 class. At 6-foot-9, the center is ranked as the 10th-best player at his position and No. 69 overall in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports. He spent his senior season with Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia.

Micah Potter, a native of Mentor, Ohio, should also log valuable minutes. Standing at 6-foot-10, he’s ranked as the No. 30 center in the country. He played his final high school season at Montverde Academy in Florida.

Both big men are noted for being able to stretch the floor, to score from down low and 3-point range, which should provide more viable offensive threats to come off the Scarlet and Gray bench along with Williams. For a team that struggled to get consistent scoring from any post player other than Tate last season, they will be welcomed additions to the OSU squad.

Some potential help on the perimeter is also on the way for Matta and company.

Small forward Andre Wesson committed to OSU in mid-April after helping lead Westerville South High School to the Ohio Division I state championship in his senior season. Wesson’s dad, Keith, played for OSU from 1983 to 1987, and his brother, Kaleb, is a 2017 commit for OSU. With solid outside-shooting ability, he should provide a backup to Loving and Bates-Diop.

In another recent addition, the Buckeyes got a commitment from junior-college transfer C.J. Jackson. In his freshman season at Eastern Florida State College, the guard averaged 16.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, while shooting 45 percent from three. Touted as a combo guard, Jackson can handle the ball as well as shoot it and will give OSU some much-needed depth in the backcourt behind Lyle and Williams.

OSU will have a solid foundation of experienced players heading into next season. The only issue will be what the program gets from its bench, which was a problem area in the 2015-16 campaign. Teams are able to succeed with six-man rotations, but the margin of error is slim. Having depth is crucial if injuries strike or a key player gets into foul trouble.

With the four newcomers, Matta seems to have found that depth, in spite of what was unexpectedly lost after the season.

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