2012--13 RECORD 29--8 BIG TEN 13--5 (T-2ND) WHAT'S BACK MINUTES: 73.7% POINTS: 64.7% REBOUNDS: 58.7%
The biggest shot of LaQuinton Ross's career was a long time coming. The 6'8" forward sat out the first two months of his freshman year because of academic problems and wound up playing a total of 35 minutes in 2011--12. Ross's role fluctuated last season until his breakout NCAA performance, which included games of 17, 17 and 19 points—highlighted by a pick-and-pop three-pointer with two seconds remaining to push Ohio State past Arizona 73--70 and into the Elite Eight.
Ross's ascent comes at just the right time: All--Big Ten forward Deshaun Thomas left Columbus early for the NBA, taking his conference-leading 19.8 points per game with him. A Jackson, Miss., native, Ross is likely not only to step into Thomas's position at the four spot but also to fill his role as the go-to source for offense. "He can score in the post; he can drive it; he can shoot threes," says coach Thad Matta. "He's really become more unselfish in terms of driving and kicking"—playmaking abilities that will force defenses to think twice about double-teaming Ross.
Senior point guard Aaron Craft, renowned for his lockdown defense, spent the summer tinkering with his shot—keeping his right elbow in, improving fluidity—in hopes of regaining the 37.7% three-point mark he had as a freshman. (He hit only 30.0% of his treys last season.) More production will have to come from senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. and junior forward Sam Thompson. Both will seek to make their occasional scoring outbursts—such as Smith's 21 points on six field goal attempts against Nebraska or Thompson's 16 points on seven shots at Penn State—more common. "Almost everybody on this team has shown they can have a big-numbers game," Matta says. "Everybody's gonna have to do a little bit more."
Projected Lineup (2012--13 STATS)
PG AARON CRAFT*
SR. 6'2" 10.0 PPG 4.6 APG
SG LENZELLE SMITH JR.*
SR. 6'4" 9.2 PPG 4.8 RPG
F SAM THOMPSON*
JR. 6'7" 7.8 PPG 3.5 RPG
F LAQUINTON ROSS
JR. 6'8" 8.3 PPG 2.9 RPG
C AMIR WILLIAMS*
JR. 6'11" 3.5 PPG 3.9 RPG
G SHANNON SCOTT
JR. 6'1" 4.9 PPG 3.8 APG
C TREY MCDONALD
JR. 6'8" 1.3 PPG 1.2 RPG
THAD MATTA (10TH SEASON)
SIDoes the new crackdown on hand checking change how you coach defense?
TM Oh, it does. My gosh. I've never seen anything like what I saw [in a scrimmage] the other day. You've gotta be smarter; you've got to be less physical. Positioning is a huge key. Anticipation's gonna be at an alltime high.
SIWhat does it do for a coach to have a four-year starter like Aaron Craft?
TM You've got a guy you can talk to throughout the course of a practice or a game that you've got an over-time relationship with, that you've been through so many things with. That's very exciting, especially from the point guard position.
SIAre we going to see Craft and Shannon Scott together in the backcourt?
TM No question. It gives us two guys who can really create havoc on the defensive end. Offensively [they] can penetrate and get inside the defense and knock down threes but also set up other guys with their understanding of the game.
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JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (3)