Ohio State looks to regain respect in rugged Big Ten
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Ohio State basketball is looking for its lost respect.
Preseason polls are peppered with Big Ten teams. But not the Buckeyes. Hardly anybody was talking about Thad Matta's team at the Big Ten media day earlier this month. Attendance at Value City Arena is sliding.
Three seasons removed from winning the 2013 Big Ten Tournament and four consecutive top-2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State has become an ''also receiving votes'' team.
The 21-14 overall record belied the disappointment that was last season. The Buckeyes failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. Relegated to the NIT, they were bounced by Florida in the second round.
However, Ohio State does have its top six performers returning from last year's young team , and they will attempt to - as guard Kam Williams puts it - ''reset an elite level.''
''I think the message for these guys has kind of been pretty basic, just in terms of we've got to get back to doing things the right way,'' Matta said.
NOT A GOOD SIGN
First thing was to get past the mass exodus . After the season, three members of last season's freshman class announced they would transfer, joining another member of that 2015 recruiting class who transferred out in December.
No doubt about it, the departures of those freshmen - Austin Grandstaff (DePaul), Daniel Giddens (Alabama), Mickey Mitchell (UC Santa Barbara) and A.J. Harris (New Mexico State) - left some holes. The excuse was the same in every case - Ohio State just wasn't the right fit.
CORE OF TALENT RETURNS
Forward Marc Loving, the lone senior, was the top scorer last season, averaging 14 points and 5.3 rebounds. Forwards Keita Bates-Diop (11.8 points per game, 6.4 rebounds) and Jae'Sean Tate (11.7, 6.4), who is now healthy after shoulder surgery, also are back. Outstanding guard JaQuan Lyle (11.2, 4.7) returns, along with guard Williams (8.3, 1.8) and 7-foot center Trevor Thompson (6.5, 5.1), who tested the NBA waters but didn't make the leap.
''I think that's a pretty good nucleus in today's day and age of college basketball - to have six guys back,'' Matta said.
GROWING UP FAST
After the loss of four-fifths of last year's recruiting class, the Buckeyes will need immediate production from first-year players. They include 6-foot-9 forward Derek Funderburk, 6-foot-6 forward Andre Wesson, junior-college transfer C.J. Jackson, a 6-foot-2 guard; and 6-foot-9 Micah Potter, a four-star prospect who is expected to contribute right away as the No. 2 center.
TURNING IT AROUND
Nobody in the program is putting the blame for the down season all on the guys who transferred out. The pat answer is that it was a variety of factors, and that's probably true. But some also are quick to say that this year's squad seems to be pulling together, when some of the players last year might have been pulling in their own directions.
''It's a different chemistry,'' Tate said. ''That team last year, it was close. Those guys are still my brothers. But I feel that everybody is on the same page this year, everybody wants the same goal and there aren't hidden agendas.
''A lot of the stuff that happened last year, it just made us hungrier,'' he said. ''I mean, nobody wants to go to the NIT. We had a lot of bad losses by a lot of points. A piece of humble pie. That's one of the big things this year, we don't want that feeling.''
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