Last year, LaQuinton Ross was not a difference make for the Ohio State Basketball team during the regular season. Averaging a little over 8 PPG in 17 minutes per game, Ross was an essential part of the rotation, but the Buckeyes lived and died on the shoulders of forward Deshaun Thomas, who is now in the NBA.
The situation is dramatically different this year, where the success of the Buckeyes will most likely rely on the success of Ross, who is Ohio State’s X-Factor.
Ross burst onto the national scene during last year’s NCAA Tournament, where he hit a game-winning three pointer with 2 seconds left in the game of and Aaron Craft pick and pop to beat Arizona in the Sweet 16. But that wasn’t Ross’s only shining moment in the tourney, as he averaged 15 PPG in 4 tournament games, including going 9/10 from the line and scoring 19 points in the Buckeyes narrow defeat to Wichita State in the Elite 8. His emergence as a go to scorer in the Tournament is what is setting up the high expectations for Ross this season, but before we talk about if LaQuinton can do it, lets talk about how he will do it.
Listed at 6 foot 8 inches and 215 pounds, Ross has gained 10 pounds from last year, now weighing in at 225 pounds. When asked about his off-season conditioning at OSU’s Media Day, Ross says he has, “Been working on [his] lateral and [has] become stronger through a lot of conditioning.”
Ross will use this added strength to combine with his length and hopefully become a force on defense this year with those attributes.
On offense, where Ross will carry a large load this season for the Buckeyes, his greatest strength is his 3-point shooting ability. He averaged 0.9 threes per game during the regular season, but that more than doubled during the Tournament, averaging 2.0 threes per game, even though he only played a little more than three minutes per game more than he did in the regular season. Ross even upped his efficiency on those shots during the Tournament, shooting a remarkable 44% on threes. He is usually an efficient player even when not shooting threes as well, shooting 47% from the field and 78% from the line.
Ross is a little disappointing at the defensive counting stats: rebounds, steals and blocks, considering his height and lengths. NBA players Nic Batum and Kevin Durant, who have similar bodies and in Batum’s case, a similar skill set, thrive in using their length to generate steals and blocks which lead to easy points for the offense. This is something to look for improvement from Ross this year, especially since Matta stresses play on the defensive end.
Another facet of the game where Ross needs to improve is what he does with the ball in his hands when hes not shooting. Ross is clearly not a passer, but someone who will have the ball as much as he will this year must improve on the 0.5 assists per game he averaged during the regular season and Tournament. He also turns the ball over way to much, averaging 1.6 per game in the regular season and 1.5 in the Tournament. If Ross can’t put the ball down and make the right decision when dribbling, he will struggle to score outside of shooting.
This year, Ross will be playing small and power forward and occasionally center. When going against smaller defenders, Ross must use his length to shoot over opponents and continue to shoot three-pointers at a high efficiency. He can also resort to backing the smaller guys down and using his size to score close to the basket. When going against guys as big as him or bigger, he must be able to use his quickness to drive by them and attack his basket. When passing in these situations it is crucial that he makes the right decision and limits his turnovers.
Replacing Deshaun Thomas and his near 20 PPG won’t be easy, but Ross seems up to the task. When asked about his new role this season at Media Day, Ross said:
“I’m going to step up to do whatever I have to do for our team to win, whether that is scoring or improving on defense.”
If Ross plays around the 35 minutes per game that Thomas played last season, I can easily envision him scoring over 20 PPG and making over 2 threes per game. Just the simple boost in minutes should get his steals and blocks around 1 per game each but with his size and length, he has the potential to average close to 2 of each per game. The increase usage that Ross is bound to see is sure to increase the volume of his assists and turnovers, but hopefully his improvement will result in the decrease of his turnover rate.
If Ross lives up to these projections, he can lead this Buckeye offense and one of the best defenses in the country back to the Elite 8 next year and possibly further. If Ohio State truly has National Championship aspirations, the most important factor is the ability of LaQuinton Ross to make the leap from role player to primary scorer. Of course, making big time shots like this will now be expected.