2022-23 Buckeye Basketball Preview
New Look Buckeyes Poised to Make Some Noise in the Big Ten
Team 124 in the long and storied history of the Ohio State men’s basketball program takes the floor on Tuesday in their first public exhibition, taking on Chaminade. This version will feature many new faces, as is the nature of the current era of college basketball. What it lacks in experience in the scarlet and gray, it makes up for in talent. Coach Chris Holtmann brings back a pair of holdovers that played significant minutes on last year’s squad in Zed Key and Eugene Brown III but enter a top ranked recruiting class and a trio of talented transfers to refill the tank. While it will be difficult to replace the production of E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham and the leadership of Kyle Young from a year ago, this team will look to do so by committee, at least at the onset of the year, and on paper there is a plethora of depth. In addition to the two returners from last year’s squad, they welcome back a fully healthy Justice Sueing, who missed almost the entirety of the season a year ago and quite possibly will be the go to guy on this team with his ability to put the ball on the floor, create and get to the rim and draw fouls. How the new roster gels early in season will go a long way into determining success in the non-conference portion of the schedule, which is quite challenging, but should prepare them very well for the Big Ten and beyond.
The Buckeyes open the season unranked for the first time in four years, sitting just outside in the others receiving votes area, but that’s as much to do with the unknown than anything. They will have an opportunity to pop into the Top 25 quickly as the schedule heats up early in the season. After three relatively unchallenging mid major games to open the year, they head to the Maui Classic on Thanksgiving week to take on preseason #19 San Diego State, who a year ago made the NCAA Tournament and won 23 games. There are also potential matchups with #9 Creighton and #10 Arkansas and preseason Top 25 teams #25 Texas Tech and #17 Arizona. Perennial powers Louisville and Cincinnati round out the very challenging field. Coming home from Maui the Buckeyes will take a week off before heading to Durham, NC for the ACC Big Ten Challenge to take on a post Coach K and 7th ranked Duke team who will be out for a bit of revenge after Ohio State downed the Blue Devils in Columbus a year ago. Another mid major precedes the start of Big Ten play and Rutgers coming to Columbus. Following the first conference game, Ohio State will head to New York City to play in the CBS Sports Classic where they will face their biggest challenge of the non-conference in the form of preseason #1 and defending national runner up North Carolina Tarheels. A pair of mid majors round out 2022 before heading full go into conference play on New Year’s Day at Northwestern. While the non-conference is certainly challenging, they will be battle tested heading into the conference portion of the schedule in a bit of a down Big Ten that faced a lot of player turnover.
While we will take an early stab at the starting five, it will likely be in flux early in the year with many interchangeable parts.
1. Bruce Thornton – Fr.: Bruce comes to Columbus after a highly decorated High School career in Alpharetta, GA, where he earned a 4 star rating as a recruit, while becoming Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year averaging 17.2 pts, 7.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists as a senior.
2. Justice Sueing – Super Sr.: Justice is entering his 6th season in college basketball and 4th in Columbus after missing almost the entire season a year ago. The year prior, Sueing averaged 10.7 ppg and recorded four double doubles. Sueing was named one of three captains for the 22-23 season.
3. Bryce Sensabaugh – Fr.: Bryce comes to Ohio State from Orlando, FL and Lake Highland Prep, where he was Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball as a Senior. During that season, he averaged 25.1 points and 7.5 rebounds, including knocking down 85 triples.
4. Isaac Likekele – Sr.: ‘Ice’ transferred to Ohio State after a solid 4 years at Oklahoma State where he started 110 of a possible 114 games and is the only player in Cowboy history to score 1000 points, collect 600 rebounds and dish out 400 assists. Ice is considered a point forward due to his ability to handle the point and has the size and strength to play on the block. He was also voted by his teammates as a captain for the 22-23 season.
5. Zed Key – Jr.: Zed is the lone returning starter and has shown improvement each year in the program. A year ago, Zed started 23 games, averaging 7.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, leading the team shooting at a 56.2% clip. Zed is the third captain for the upcoming season and is a natural leader on and off the floor.
The roster is deep and there are several interchangeable parts so a few of the names below could find their way into the starting lineup and if not, will still play big minutes.
Sean McNeil, G– Sr.: Sean comes to Ohio State after a three-year career at West Virginia, where he averaged 12.2 ppg in each of the last two seasons. He ranks 12th in WVU history with 155 three’s made and hit on 36.8%. He also ranks 3rd in Mountaineer history, hitting 88.9% from the stripe. Sean will be a key contributor from the outside on this year’s Buckeyes with his ability to stretch the floor and quite possibly could be a starter at the 2.
Tanner Holden, G – Sr.: Tanner comes to Columbus after a three year stint at Wright State where he started every game, averaging 16.1 points, 7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals over the three years, including 20.1 ppg a year ago. He is a playmaker and a pure scorer who could also find is way in the starting lineup as he learns to play the game at a higher level in the Big Ten. Regardless, he is a big piece of this year’s team and should he choose to use it, has one more year of eligibility beyond this season.
Eugene Brown III, G – Jr.: Gene started 10 games a year ago for Ohio State and could see his way into the starting lineup this season as well as he becomes more consistent on both ends of the floor. He showed flashes of how good he can be last season, and in many cases guarded the opponent’s best player, utilizing his size and athleticism on the defensive end. He could possibly be named as a fourth captain as alluded to by Chris Holtmann on media day.
Roddy Gayle Jr., G – Fr.: Roddy comes to Columbus ranked as the #41 prospect and #2 shooting guard in the country. Fighting through an injury a year ago, he still led his team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He is a pure athlete with tremendous upside as an offensive player with his explosion and leaping ability and will likely be a key contributor to this year’s team in a role that will be defined as the season progresses.
Felix Okpara, C – Fr.: Felix enters his freshman season at Ohio State as a top 60-ranked prospect and helped lead his school, Link Academy to the Finals of the Geico National Tournament. Okpara is blessed with tremendous athleticism for a guy of his size at 6’11”. He is a pure shot blocker and runs the floor very well. He will see extended minutes at center for Ohio State and as his game on the offensive end develops, he will become a major force for the Buckeyes program.
Kalen Etzler, F – RS Fr.: In his second year with the program, Kalen redshirted a year ago to gain strength. By all accounts the year is paying off. He is expected to provide length as a stretch 4 for Ohio State. He can stretch the floor with his 6’8’ frame and his shooting ability from the outside, which could provide matchup issues. It remains to be seen how many minutes he will log but how many will likely be determined by how quickly he adapts on the defensive end of the floor.
Bowen Hardman, G – Fr.: Bowen dealt with an ankle injury his senior season at Cincinnati Princeton High School that limited him but did average over 15 points per game as a junior. He is a pure shooter who can hit the three at a high percentage, hitting 40% from beyond the arc as a prep. In all likelihood, he will redshirt this season to get stronger, but is a key component in future seasons.
Colby Baumann, G – Fr.: Colby is one of two walk-ons added to the Ohio State roster this season. He broke his wrist his senior year at IMG Academy in Florida and had a year in IMG’s post grad program before joining the Buckeyes.
Owen Spencer, F – Jr.: Also a walk-on, Owen, a native of Cincinnati, played two years at The Citadel, appearing in 23 games. As a senior at Cincinnati’s Turpin High School, Owen averaged 11 points and just under 7 rebounds.
Big Ten Conference Predictions
It’s a year of transition for the Big Ten and looks to be a down year for the conference as a whole after losing a boatload of stars to graduation and to NBA early entry so the conference could be up for grabs. Every team has had significant roster turnover and seems to be wide open at the top. For the first time since 1977, not one Big Ten school finds itself ranked among the Top 10 in the preseason AP poll. While this means absolutely zero, it does reflect how much of an unknown many of these schools are in terms of proven rosters. Below, I will pick who I believe will finish in the top half of the conference at season’s end.
1. Indiana – The Hoosiers return the most production in the conference including what may be the conference’s best player in Trayce Jackson-Davis and are the clear favorite in the preseason.
Trayce Jackson-Davis F 18.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg
Xavier Johnson G 12.1 ppg
Race Thompson F 11.1 ppg 7.5 rpg
Parker Stewart G 6.2 ppg
Rob Phinisee G 4.5 ppg
Malik Reneau, 5 star freshman power forward
Jalen Hood-Schifino, 4 star freshman combo guard
2. Michigan – Lost four of five top scorers, however they do return a conference POY candidate in C, Hunter Dickinson and a loaded recruiting class
Hunter Dickinson G 18.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg
Eli Brooks G 12.8 ppg
DaVante’ Jones F 10.3 ppg
Caleb Houstan F 10.1 ppg
Moussa Diabate F 9.0 ppg 6.0 rpg
Jaelin Llewellyn – Princeton Transfer, averaged 15.7 ppg with the Tigers in 2021-22
Rivals 12th ranked recruiting Class
3. Ohio State – A lot of talent, yet many unknowns. Lost two NBA draft picks but pulled in the best recruiting class in the conference and ranked among the best nationally along with the top transfer class in the league.
Zed Key F 7.8 ppg. 5.6 rpg
Justice Sueing G averaged double figures in 2020-21
Eugene Brown III G 3.5 ppg
EJ Liddell F 19.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg
Malaki Branham G 13.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg
Kyle Young F 8.2 ppg, 5 rpg
Jamari Wheeler 7.1 ppg, 2.9 apg
Issac “Ice” Likekele F – Oklahoma State Transfer, 1000-point scorer for the Cowboys
Tanner Holden G – Wright State Transfer, averaged 20.1 ppg for the Raiders in 2021-22
Sean McNeil G – West Virginia Transfer, averaged 12.2 ppg and shot 38% from deep for the Mountaineers in 2021-22
Rivals 7th best recruiting class nationally, top in the B1G
4. Purdue – Lost entire backcourt and majority of scoring, but return C Zach Edey to lock down the paint.
Zach Edey C 14.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg
Mason Gillis F 6.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Jaden Ivey 17.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Trevion Williams 12.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg
Sasha Stefanovic 10.4 ppg, 87 triples
Fletcher Loyer, 4 star Freshman Guard
Camden Heide, 4 star Freshman Forward
5. Michigan State – Lost a lot of scoring but returns four players who made an impact in the NCAA tournament
Joey Hauser F 7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg
A.J. Hoggard G, 7.0 ppg, 4.8 apg
Malik Hall F, 8.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg
Gabe Brown G 11.6 ppg
Marcus Bingham F 9.3ppg
Max Christie G 9.3 ppg
Julius Marble II F 6.4 ppg
Tyson Walker – Northeastern transfer guard who averaged 8.2 ppg in 21-22
Trejuan Holloman – 4 Star freshman guard
Jaxon Kohler – 4 star freshman forward
6. Illinois – Lost top 5 scorers and 10 scholarship players total, but bring in key transfers and a top 10 recruiting class
R.J. Melendez G, 3.8 ppg but 18.0 and 7.9 per 40 minutes
Kofi Cockburn C, 20.9 ppg 10.6 rpg
Alfonso Plummer G, 14.6 ppg
Trent Frazier G, 11.6 ppg, 4.1 apg
Jacob Grandison 9.6 ppg
Andre Curbelo 7.5 ppg, 3.2 apg
Terrance Shannon Jr – Texas Tech transfer guard who averaged 11 ppg in 21-22
Matthew Mayer – Baylor transfer forward averaged 9.8 ppg and 5 rpg a year ago
Dain Dainja – Former top 100 recruit and Baylor transfer forward who redshirted two years ago and saw limited playing time in 21-22 for the Bears
Rivals 10th ranked recruiting class
7. Iowa – Lost top two scorers but return half of the Murray brothers and several other key parts
Kris Murray F 9.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Patrick McCaffery F 10.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg
Keegan Murray F 23.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg
Jordan Bohannon G 11.0 ppg
A pair of three star freshmen who expect to play right away
There are a lot of unknowns for the conference as a whole but for Ohio State, they are not only counting on four freshmen to make an immediate impact, they will be looking for scoring punch from the three transfers. How quickly they gel and get used to playing together will be critical to determining how well Ohio State plays early in the season. I expect an improvement arc as the Buckeyes enter January and on into February and March. Who will step up as the go to guy in the clutch like Malaki Branham became midway through the season a year ago? Will the scoring be by committee or will 2 or 3 step up to provide that impact? How quickly will the newcomers buy into the system on both ends and be able to not only impact the game on the offensive end, but get it done defensively as well? These are just a few of the questions that will be answered as the season progresses. My final projection for Ohio State is that they will struggle some early with the difficult schedule and so many new faces, but ultimately finish near the top of the conference and enter the NCAA tournament with a 4-7 seed and look to advance to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time in the Holtmann era. This may be a slight year of transition but with the youth and talent on this roster, and the way Coach Holtmann is recruiting, the future is very bright.
– Jason Harris