Even with their stunning upset loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions in Columbus Thursday night, one that had arguably the best finish of the college basketball season, the Ohio State Buckeyes are still in the driver’s seat to make the NCAA Tournament at season’s end. Once projected to finish 11th (or even 12th) in the Big Ten by the conference’s media members and others prior to the season, at 18-5 (9-1), they currently sit in second place in the Big Ten and are also in the AP Top 25.
In head coach Chris Holtmann’s first season, it was supposed to take much longer than just a few months for the Buckeyes to be relevant again on the basketball court. Not only because of the coaching change, but because of how thin Ohio State’s roster is. Even with Holtmann and company recruiting the top class in the Big Ten in just a few months in 2017, the scarlet and gray were still expected to have a starting lineup that could compete with many teams, but not be deep enough to knock off the best talent in the Big Ten, let alone the country.
Obviously, they have surprised everyone and are not only one of the best teams in the Big Ten, but have a shot to make some noise in March as well. With that said, it’s interesting to think of what could have been if so many players didn’t transfer in Thad Matta’s last couple years at Ohio State. In his last two years, Matta had six players transfer from the program: A.J. Harris, Mickey Mitchell, Daniel Giddens, Austin Grandstaff, David Bell, and JaQuan Lyle.1 You can also add Braxton Beverly to that list, who decided to transfer from Ohio State after Matta resigned. We know how well the Buckeyes are doing on the hardwood, but let’s take a look at how their recent transfers are performing with their new teams after having to sit out a year due to the transfer rule:
After deciding to transfer from Ohio State following the 2015-16 season, the point guard landed at New Mexico State. In his first season with Aggies, Harris is averaging 9.2 points, 3.1 assists, and 1.7 rebounds while shoot 41 percent from the floor and 30 percent from beyond the arc in 28.1 minutes per game (20 games). Helping lead New Mexico State to an 18-3 record so far, Harris seems to be his team’s starting point guard and one of their biggest playmakers.
Although C.J. Jackson would still be the starting point guard even if he was still in Columbus, but Harris would have provided the Buckeyes with some much-needed depth, especially at point guard. Right now, Ohio State only has Jackson and graduate transfer Andrew Dakich, with point-forward Jae’Sean Tate taking plenty of ballhandling duties as well.
After committing, decommitting, then re-committing to the Buckeyes, Mitchell spent just one season in Columbus before transferring to Arizona State. At 6-foot-7, 232 pounds, the small forward plays bigger than his position. So far with the Sun Devils this season, Mitchell is averaging 6.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 36 percent from long distance in 25.5 minutes per game (13 games, seven starts).
His team’s leading rebounder, his toughness and ability to play in the paint is one of the many reasons why Arizona State (16-5 overall) has surprised so many this season.
If you watched any Ohio State game this season, there lack of depth up front is very noticeable. If Keita Bates-Diop, Kaleb Wesson, or Micah Potter get in any foul trouble, the Buckeyes become very, very thin upfront. Mitchell could have given them a solid backup option behind Bates-Diop, along with his toughness and rebounding ability being a great addition to the scarlet and gray.
Luckily, it’s not football, right? Giddens decided to transfer from Ohio State to Alabama following the 2015-16 season.
He may not provide Bama with much on the stat sheet, but averaging 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 14.5 minutes per game (21 games, 12 starts) while shooting 59 percent from the floor, Giddens provides the Crimson Tide with height and strength down low. As was seen in their upset win over Oklahoma on Saturday, Alabama has the toughness to play more physical than their opponents and the 6-foot-10 big man is a main reason for that.
Like Mitchell, Giddens could have provided the Buckeyes with some much-needed depth in the front court this season, along with more physicality in the paint as well.
After deciding to transfer from Ohio State midway through the 2015-16 season, Grandstaff has had quite the ride. From the Buckeyes, he committed Oklahoma. Then, he unexpectedly decided to not join the Sooners and instead play for DePaul. So far this season, he has averaged just 1.8 points while shooting 22 percent from the floor and 23 percent from three-point range in 8.2 minutes per game (14 games).
Once projected to be one of the top shooting guards in his recruiting class out of high school, Grandstaff has been a major disappointment so far in college.
After deciding to transfer from Ohio State following Matta’s final season, Bell is sitting out this season due to transfer rules. With that said, he transfered to Jacksonville University. He averaged jut 1.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, while not receiving much playing time during his final season in Columbus. Although he would have been the third-best center on the roster for the Buckeyes this season, Bell could have been another body that added more depth up front.
Unlike the rest of his peers that were in Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class, Lyle was the only one of the five to remain with the Buckeyes for two seasons. In an offseason that included him being cited for three misdemeanor charges, the point guard also quit the Ohio State basketball team.
In his two seasons in Columbus, Lyle averaged 11.3 points, 4.4 assists, and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from the floor and 31 percent from beyond the arc in 29.5 minutes per game (66 games, 54 starts). He was the team’s third-leading scorer during the 2016-17 season before deciding to leave the program and transfer to New Mexico.
While Jackson and Dakich have played well in their roles for the Buckeyes so far this season, a playmaker like Lyle could have been a much-needed addition in Ohio State’s backcourt. With that said, it seems as though his off-the-court issues ruined his time in Columbus, even with a brand new coaching staff.
Beverly’s story with Ohio State is by far the most interesting. He was one of four players in the Buckeyes’ 2017 recruiting class, but after Matta left, Beverly decided to as well. He transfered to NC State, as I predicted a month before it even happened. With that said, he was at first ruled ineligible for the Wolfpack because he attended summer class at Ohio State, even though the Buckeyes released his letter of intent.2 Luckily, the NCAA decided that it was wrong to make Beverly ineligible and decided to allow him to play for NC State this season, just a week into the college basketball season.
So far this season, the true freshman is averaging 9.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 2.5 rebounds while shooting 35 percent from the floor and 34 percent from long distance in 31.6 minutes per game. He has been a major reason why NC State has upset plenty of high-level opponents this season, including North Carolina in Chapel Hill this past Saturday. While playing in 20 games (16 starts) this season, Beverly has proved that he could have been a major contributor if he had stayed in Columbus.
Even without those six players, Holtmann and the rest of his coaching staff have figured out a way to maximize their roster, putting their players in the best position to succeed that they possibly can. I’d say they are doing a great job, but then again, it’s amazing to think of how much better the Buckeyes could be even if they had a couple of those six players that have transferred from the program over the last two years. Luckily, the program isn’t thinking about what could have been and instead just doing the best with what they currently have, which has proven to be a Top 25 team in the country.