Ohio State may have lost 74-66 to Florida in the second round of the NIT on Sunday afternoon, bring its season to a close. But that was merely a side note to the fact that 5-foot-9 A.J. Harris “dunked on the entire state of Florida,” specifically the part of Florida containing 6-foot-9 defender Kevarrius Hayes. Luckily, that dunk should be enough to hold Buckeye basketball fans over until November rolls around again.
In the world of sports, it’s never too early to look ahead to the future, especially when the future offers more hope than the present does. Below is a look at how the 2016-17 roster will shake out. And if it looks quite similar to this year’s, well, that’s because it is.
The fifth-year former walk-on (he was awarded a scholarship prior to this season) that everyone loved to love, Lorbach was forced to sit out all of his redshirt senior year after suffering a concussion in the preseason, the third of his career. He never played in more than eight games in a season but is known for being one of Ohio State’s more likable players (he’s a fun Twitter-stalk, too).
Knowing that he had played in his final college basketball game, he continued to attend practices all season long and should never have his dedication toward Ohio State basketball questioned, even if he wasn’t able to prove it on the court.
And as of now, that is literally it.
Daniel Giddens, JaQuan Lyle, Kam Williams, and Marc Loving–the only four Buckeyes with a greater shot at playing in the NBA than you or I do right now–will all be returning next season, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
It is possible that with a congested front court, one of Trevor Thompson or David Bell could get the urge to transfer. However, Bell has already told Cleveland.com that he plans to return to Columbus, and Thompson (who started in 80 percent of Ohio State’s games) figures to have even less incentive to transfer than Bell.
Probably the most enjoyable name to pronounce of any Ohio State player in recent memory, the four-star Funderburk is an athletic forward that could end up getting playing time at the three, four, and five.
With so many big men on the roster, I would be surprised to see him average more than ten minutes per game next year. While it may take a season or two for Funderburk to fully develop his game at the college level, it’s not hard to see his high ceiling.
Looking at the big picture, 2017-18 could be a breakout season for Funderburk. Although he spent most of his time in high school at center, playing as a small forward or stretch four are probably his best fits at Ohio State, though that will be contingent upon his ability to improve his jump shot.
You can check out his mixtape from a 2015 NBA Top 100 camp here.
Potter is a three-star center who will make the bulk of his impact next season on the offensive end of the court. At 6-foot-10, he is more than capable of stretching the defense and hitting from three-point range. He will spend the fall competing with the likes of Giddens, Thompson, Bell, and Mickey Mitchell for playing time in 2016.
His offensive skill set is one that no other OSU big man currently possesses, and that alone should buy Potter a spot as a role player at the very least next year.
To see highlights of Potter from the 2016 National Prep School Invitational, click here.
Lyle and A.J. “Nate Robinson” Harris will man the point once again next season, this time as sophomores with valuable experience under their respective belts. In addition to walk-on Joey Lane, Kam Williams is the only other true guard on the roster. Look for Williams to be a strong contender for Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, assuming he does not in fact start.
Small forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving–who will be the lone senior on the roster–led the team in scoring in 2015-16. Whether or not Lyle or Jae’Sean Tate pushes to break that up next season will be an indicator of this team’s success. While Loving is a solid, reliable player and leader, he should be the Buckeyes’ third or fourth best option if players like Lyle, Giddens, Tate, Williams, and Bates-Diop are at their best.
At the four and five positions, Ohio State returns Tate, Thompson, Giddens, Mitchell, and Bell. In an ideal scenario, one or two of these bigs (outside of Tate, who is already a step above the others) are able to separate themselves and truly earn their spot as a starter or significant role player, rather than each simply being an interchangeable part.
With 10 scholarship players coming back and the addition of two transfers, the Bucks will have one open scholarship for either a transfer or a third recruit. At the moment, there is no clear indication which direction Thad Matta will go.
Regardless of what happens with the thirteenth scholarship, Ohio State will be in a situation that teams–especially those in power conferences–seldom find themselves in in the current age of college basketball. It will essentially be playing with the same team for two consecutive seasons.
For next season to be a successful one for Ohio State, Lyle and Giddens need to become on-court leaders. They each have the physical tools to do so. The bigger challenge will be mastering the game mentally.
Bates-Diop must be able to put up 10 to 15 points on a consistent basis. He did average 11.8 points per game as a sophomore this season. However, his games of 22 and 24 (twice) were balanced out by two games with zero points.
Whether it’s Giddens, Lyle, KBD, Tate, or even the beloved A.J. Harris, somebody on this team must assume the responsibility of “star.” Outside of the extreme Kansas example, it is difficult to find any top team around the country that is completely void of star power.
So unless Thad Matta plans on going full Bill Self on the Big Ten, Ohio State will need somebody to step up and be (even if it’s on a much smaller scale) the DeAngelo Russell/ Aaron Craft/ Jared Sullinger/ Evan Turner of next season’s squad.
With 100 percent of players that stepped on the court this season (minus Austin Grandstaff, who announced in January that he would be transferring to Oklahoma after playing just 10 games for Ohio State), the Buckeyes’ 2016-17 season will depend entirely on player development over the course of the next year.
And hey, even if there is no improvement and Ohio State finds itself eliminated from the NIT once again a year from now, we can all rest easy knowing that Ohio’s own 5-foot-9 A.J. Harris dunked on the entire state of Florida. Not a bad worst case scenario, if I do say so myself.