Ohio State desperately needs D'Angelo Russell to be eligible

Jared Wickerham

If the Buckeyes are going to show a pulse on offense this upcoming season, the 6'4 freshman guard will need to be a big part of the rotation.

The Big Ten produced four of the top 12 offenses in the country last season according to Ken Pom, but you never would have known it if you watched enough Ohio State basketball. In a way, the Buckeyes personified the worst stereotypes of what the rest of the country believes the conference to be. There was little floor spacing or shooting, no attempt to run even with several great athletes and the general sense that the offense was always stuck in the mud.

The Buckeyes started 15-0 and climbed as high as No. 3 in the polls before a lifeless offense finally started to take its toll. Ohio State failed to score at least 65 points in five of its conference losses on the way to a disappointing 10-8 mark during Big Ten play. When Ohio State fell to Dayton in a 6-11 upset in the very first game of the NCAA Tournament, few acted surprised that the country's No. 3 defense couldn't keep the No. 128 offense afloat.

The challenge for the Buckeyes next year is reinventing the offense even after losing the the team's three leading scorers in LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft. Ohio State could have argued it was addition by subtraction with a few new pieces set to enter the rotation, but those plans took a step back on Tuesday when freshman guard D'Angelo Russell didn't report with the rest of the Buckeyes as he waits for a standardized test score that would clear him to play.

There's still plenty of time for Russell to become eligible, and the Buckeyes better hope he's able to be cleared. The 6'4 lefty has the type of pure shooting stroke that can unclog the middle of the floor and finally let Ohio State get some easy buckets.

Russell, a McDonald's All-American from Florida, is part of a strong four-man recruiting class that placed three players in the top 30 of ESPN's class of 2014 rankings. At No. 13, Russell was the most highly touted of the bunch. He also has the skill set to make the biggest impact on Ohio State as a freshman.

Russell is a combo guard with range that extends past the three-point line and the type of aggressive mindset Ohio State's offense lacked last season. He comes to Columbus after picking the Buckeyes over North Carolina, Louisville, Florida and plenty of college basketball's other blue-blood programs. After attending Montverde Academy, the same high school that produced Florida's Kasey Hill and Kentucky's Dakari Johnson, Russell is familiar with what it's like to go against high-level competition every day in practice.

The Buckeyes don't return a single player who averaged eight points per game last season. Even if Russell is coming off the bench, there will be an opportunity for him to act as a spark plug similar to the way Ross was used as a sophomore.

If Russell is eligible, Ohio State's best lineup for closing games might be going small with Temple transfer Anthony Lee at the five, Sam Thompson at the four and Shannon Scott, Marc Loving and Russell on the perimeter. It would give Ohio State the best chance to get easy buckets in transition while also putting the most shooting possible on the court. Getting Amir Williams and Trey McDonald off the floor could be the key to igniting a stale offense.

Thompson's rebounding would be an issue for that small lineup, but he's ultra athletic and a versatile defender. Lee has a 7-foot wingspan and posted a 20.2 defensive rebounding percentage last year, good for third in the American Athletic Conference. Read more about Lee's potential impact in this great assessment by our Ohio State site Land-Grant Holy Land.

The easiest way to jump-start an offense is by getting as many athletes and shooters on the floor at the same time. For Ohio State, that's a mission that begins with finding a spot for Russell. The Buckeyes better hope he's eligible, because he's the key to fixing so much of what ailed Ohio State last season.

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