Buckeyes Look To Build on Surprising 2017-18 Campaign
The 2018-’19 version of the Ohio State basketball Buckeyes will look a bit different after the loss of 4 impact seniors, most notably Keita Bates-Diop, who now suits them up for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Coach Chris Holtmann will also have to replace the heart and soul of the program the last 4 years in Jae’Sean Tate, sharp shooter Kam Williams, and floor leader, Andrew Dakich. While that’s a lot of production to replace, year 2 of the Chris Holtmann era is not devoid of talent. While it is never easy replacing 58% of the scoring, 51% of the rebounding and 49% of the assists, there is capable, yet unproven replacements. In addition to the group of returners, Holtmann has added a solid 4 man recruiting class, headlined by consensus top 100 guard, Luther Muhammed from New Jersey. The Buckeyes staff also convinced graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods from Wake Forest to spend his final season of eligibility in Columbus. So despite reloading some, they have the talent and coaching to surprise some of the so called experts again this year.
The early season schedule will challenge the young Buckeyes starting on November 7th at the newly renovated Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati against the Bearcats. Holtmann understands the danger of scheduling a school like Cincinnati but ultimately feels as if it will help the program as it generates fan excitement in the early going and will again next season when Cincinnati travels to Columbus. The Buckeyes also travel to perennial NCAA tournament team, Creighton November 15th as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games between the Big East and the Big Ten. In addition to those road challenges, Ohio State will welcome Syracuse to the Schottenstein Center on November 28th as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. For the 5th consecutive year, Ohio State will participate in the CBS Sports Classic. This year’s match up will be hosted by the United Center in Chicago with the Buckeyes playing UCLA. Those four games and an expanded Big Ten schedule in which teams are now playing 20 conference games should not only test the Buckeyes, but prepare them well for March.
2018-19 Ohio State Basketball Schedule
Schedule via OhioStateBuckeyes.com
The Buckeyes were able to spend a week and a half in Spain in July and got to play a few games together. While the summer trip to Spain was a good way for his players and coaching staff to get to know each other off the court, Holtmann feels that it’s really unknown how it will translate to success on the floor but it was a tremendous educational experience for his group.
The Buckeyes will once again be playing with a defensive minded approach as they did a year ago. Holtmann feels as if the length and versatility of his guys can be disruptive on the perimeter and make things difficult for teams to get into their half court sets. With the depth at the wing positions, he has the luxury to be able to rotate several players into that spot and play at a high level of intensity that is important in Big Ten play.
The returning group for Coach Holtmann and his staff includes just one senior and most veteran Buckeye, point guard C.J. Jackson. Jackson returns for his 3rd and final year in Columbus as the team’s leading returning scorer at 12.6 points per game a year ago and last season’s assist leader at 3.9 per game. Jackson started 31 of the 34 games a year ago and many remember the triple he drilled late in the second overtime at Indiana that help down the Hoosiers in Bloomington. This season C.J. will be counted on to be not only floor general but with his ability to shoot the basketball, will see time off the ball at the 2 as well.
Junior wing Andre Wesson will be counted on once again this season to defend the opponent’s best player. Andre has the ability to guard the 2 through 4 spots on the floor with his length and athleticism. He has also spent a lot of time in the gym this summer refining his jumper to become more of an offensive threat as well. He showed flashes of offensive brilliance a year ago, most notably in the upset win in West Lafayette against Purdue, when he drilled 3 triples in a career high 13 point effort. He will be counted on more this season to produce on the offensive side of the floor and seems poised to be able to contribute early.
Another junior that Chris Holtmann will be counting on this season to be more productive is 6’9” forward Micah Potter. Potter has been forced at times to play the 5 for the Buckeyes, but is much more comfortable at the 4. He has shown flashes of being able to stretch the floor offensively with his jump shot which will need to be more consistent for him to see major minutes this season. He has struggled defensively guarding other teams’ big men and has worked hard to add strength which should help him with the physicality he will face in the Big Ten Conference.
Maybe the guy that the Buckeyes need to have a big year more than anyone is sophomore center Kaleb Wesson. Kaleb has once again worked all off season to reshape his body to be able to handle the rigors of the Big Ten Conference. At times a year ago, he struggled with positioning defensively and was unable to stay on the floor due to foul trouble. Being better conditioned and a year of seasoning should help him remedy that. Coming off a solid freshman campaign in which he averaged 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, he will be relied on to contribute on both ends of the floor and increase those numbers substantially. Wesson has the shooting touch to pull defenders out on the wing and respect his jumper as well as the strength to be a force in the paint. For Ohio State to make a return to the NCAA tournament, Wesson will need to stay on the floor and be a major contributor for this basketball team.
Sophomore Kyle Young will look to have a bigger impact on this year’s team. Holtmann has seen a major improvement from Young in practice thus far. Coming in as a highly regarded freshman a year ago, Young struggled to see minutes playing behind Big Ten Player of the Year, Keita Bates-Diop. He has all the tools to be a big time basketball player in this conference. He is physical and athletic with the ability to shoot from distance or put it on the deck and get to the rim. Holtmann doesn’t think he will be a prolific scorer necessarily but he won’t be asked to be a primary offensive weapon for this team. What they need from Young is a defensive presence and a guy who will be very active on the glass. It’s early, but so far they like what they see.
The final returnee from a year ago is sophomore forward Musa Jallow. Jallow was an early enrollee last year after graduating high school a year early, so this should really be his freshman year. A true physical specimen, Jallow has the length and athleticism to be a major impact player in the near future. Whether he can take the next step offensively depends on how consistent he can be shooting from distance. If he can get his shooting numbers up, he has the ability to put it on the floor and get to the rim and when he gets there, he is explosive. Jallow will be counted on this year to be a defensive stopper on the perimeter and any offense he can give them will be the icing on the cake.
Of the newcomers, the most impactful player could very well be graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods. Woods played a year ago at Wake Forest where he averaged 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 26 minutes per game. The 6’3” guard shot 49.5 percent from the field, including 43.8 percent from deep. Holtmann is expecting Woods to be a leader on this basketball team and that he is kind of feeling his way so far in practice. Look for Woods to play both off the ball and at the point guard. With his ability to shoot, he will be a major weapon helping to stretch defenses and creating more space in the post for a guy like Kaleb Wesson to operate.
The highest rated recruit is 6’4” guard Luther Muhammad from Jersey City, NJ. Muhammad is a top 100 recruit nationally at the shooting guard position, however, he has a good handle and may see some time running the point as well. Muhammad has a tremendous offensive game but he may be the best defensive recruit in college basketball this season. Muhammad prides himself on defense with the length, athleticism and quickness to guard anyone from point guards to small forwards. He may also be the best NBA prospect on the roster currently and will be an immediate impact on this year’s basketball team.
The other three freshman are 6’7” forward Jaedon Ledee from Texas, 6’5” sharpshooter Justin Ahrens from Versailles and 6’3” guard Duane Washington from California. Ledee is a physical freak with a Big Ten type body. At 6’7” and a rock solid 230 pounds, he is physically college ready immediately. He’s a pure scorer, both as a shooter and a slasher, as well as a physical and active rebounder that should see plenty of time at the 4 spot for Holtmann’s group. Ahrens, a left handed shooter and the DIII Co-Player of the year in Ohio, he averaged 23 points per game to lead Versailles to a spot in the state finals. Ahrens could end up being a guy off the bench that provides instant offense ala Kyle Korver for the Cavs. He plays entirely from the perimeter and has the ability to open up the floor with his ability to shoot from distance. Washington is a smooth, 6’3” guard who owns a smooth jump shot. He can shoot from all over the floor both from a spot up position or off the dribble and could see minutes spelling Woods or Jackson. While he is not a true point guard, he has a good handle and can play there in a pinch.
The Buckeyes also return their most vocal leader, senior Joey Lane and senior walk-on Danny Hummer from Upper Arlington. One more newcomer is Florida State transfer point guard C.J. Walker. Walker started at the point for the Seminoles last year and averaged 8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists. While he is ineligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules, he will be able to practice and help give the coaching staff depth in practice. Walker will have 2 years of eligibility beginning next season.
While the Big Ten as a conference looks stronger this year, I think most people have learned not to count out the Buckeyes despite the guys that are no longer here. There are good basketball players on this team and many will be in new roles from what they were counted on for last season but that’s life in college basketball. They have more depth at the guard position than they did a year ago thanks to the addition of the 3 new players in the backcourt which will allow them to play with a little more tempo. While the media and many national pundits aren’t expecting much from Ohio State this year, (Andy Katz of BTN has Ohio State finishing 12th in the conference) I think if certain guys can take the next step in their development, this team has a chance to finish in the upper echelon of the Big Ten and make an NCAA tournament appearance for the second consecutive year.
I will spare you the prediction of all 14 Big Ten teams and focus on the top half of the conference. Who really cares that Rutgers will finish 14th again?
1. Michigan State Spartans – Tom Izzo returns a talented group led by Cassius Winston and Nick Ward and should stay atop the standings again.
2. Michigan Wolverines – Fresh off their run to the NCAA title game, The Wolverines return the versatile Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson along with the #11 recruiting class nationally.
3. Indiana Hoosiers – Potential Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Juwan Morgan returns and The Hoosiers also add National top five prospect Romeo Langford to the fold.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes – Flying under the radar again this season, but the Buckeyes add a potential All Big Ten center in Kaleb Wesson and grad transfer Keyshawn Woods and Luther Muhammad team with C.J. Jackson to potentially form one of the top backcourts in the Big Ten.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers – Nebraska brings nearly everyone back from a squad that just missed the NCAA tournament a year ago. James Palmer, Jr. and Isaac Copeland came back after pulling out of the NBA draft which will help the Huskers contend in the top half of the conference.
6. Purdue Boilermakers – Purdue lost a lot of talent but an important piece, guard Carsen Edwards came back after flirting with the NBA draft.
7. Wisconsin Badgers – Ethan Happ will return for his senior season and the Badgers return all five starters who underachieved a year ago. The Badgers will be improved and contend for an appearance in the NCAA tournament in March.
I obviously have the Buckeyes higher than most but seeing what’s returning and who they are adding, I really like the backcourt and if Kaleb Wesson can be what I think he can be, there’s no reason why Ohio State won’t be in a similar spot as they were a year ago. They have size and athleticism on the wing that should be able to defend at a high level and make things difficult on the perimeter. I expect improvement out of guys like Kyle Young, Andre Wesson and Musa Jallow as well and if they can get increased production out of those guys, this team could be dangerous in March. Ultimately, I feel like the Buckeyes will finish in the top half of the Big Ten and seeded in the 5-7 range when the NCAA tournament bracket is revealed in early March. No matter what happens, we know from watching last year that Chris Holtmann and his staff have the basketball program on the rise. Judging by next year’s recruiting class, ranked anywhere from 4th to 6th nationally, and some of the players he has interested in 2020 and beyond, this program is back on the national radar and that’s fun to see.