Last season, the Ohio State men’s basketball team suffered from immaturity, poor play and a lack of accountability. During the offseason, the Buckeyes were focused on righting last season’s wrongs.
Posting a 21-14 record last year, an 11-7 conference record couldn’t salvage early season losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis that paved the way to the National Invitational Tournament.
This year, the Buckeyes have been emphasizing unity, and holding each player accountable for his contribution to the team. OSU coach Thad Matta said his unit will be focused on the parts they can play, and not on the talent of one player.
“I think this team is going to be a team where guys are going to have roles,” he said. “And they’re going to have to embrace the role. They’re going to have to do their job every time they take the floor.”
After struggling to find a rhythm early on, the Buckeyes found a groove in February last season, picking up four straight wins before a matchup against then-No. 6 Michigan State. Before the game, it was announced that then-sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate would miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.
The injury hurt the Buckeyes in all aspects of the game, since Tate is known for his scoring and rebounding ability after averaging 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 2015. Lacking his fast-paced style of play, OSU lost two of its next three games, and was blown out in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament by Michigan State, before losing in the NIT.
With Tate back and six of the leading scorers from last year’s team returning, Matta said he will be looking for his team to be more grown up as compared with the 2015 season.
“It wasn’t what I wanted just in terms of the daily behavior, the daily way we carried ourselves last year,” he said. “The immaturity that we had last season at certain times was something that, hopefully, we learned we can’t have that going into this season because it can really cost us.”
Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop was an instrumental player for OSU last season, averaging 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Although he contributed on both ends of the court last year, Bates-Diop said he and the rest of the Buckeyes have been focusing on the most minute details of the game that caused problems last year.
“It’s the little things … last year was turnovers, free throws and a lot of stuff,” Bates-Diop said. “Just focusing on those things, running and making sure everyone knows the plays, the defensive schemes going into the season is going to be a huge thing for us.”
The return of multiple starters has the Buckeyes and the OSU coaching staff eager to get onto the court. Following the conclusion of last season, OSU underwent a slew of transfers, affecting team depth and chemistry.
Sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle is the only returning member of the 2015 recruiting class. Redshirt junior guard Kam Williams said the members of the team are hungry to improve their game and have a greater desire to win that was not present last season.
“I say, this summer, everybody was eager to learn and everybody was highly motivated,” Williams said. “Obviously the way we finished last season was obviously not where we want to be. Each day, everybody came in with a chip on their shoulder, and we’re just trying to get better and prove people wrong every single day.”
Problems with the team last season seemed to grow and fester, resulting in head-scratching losses and blowouts at the hands of Big Ten teams. OSU ranked 68th in opponent points per game, while registering a turnover margin of -1.1.
That number put the Buckeyes in a tie for the 260th spot. To put into perspective just how much OSU turned the ball over, the Buckeyes had the third most turnovers on the Big Ten.
Williams said issues that plagued the team last year have been addressed this offseason, and Matta and the team will not hesitate to fix any issues that arise.
“We know when something is a problem,” Williams said. “We nip it in the bud as soon as we see it. I don’t think we did that last year. I think this team is a lot more mature than last year’s team by far.”
The rebooted Buckeyes will get a chance to test their revamped approach against Walsh University in an exhibition game on Nov. 6 at the Schottenstein Center.