Since head coach Chris Holtmann took over for Thad Matta in 2017, the Ohio State Buckeyes have exceeded expectations on the hardwood. Not only have the scarlet and gray finished as one of the top teams in the Big Ten even after being projected to finish in the middle (or even the bottom) of the pack, but the Buckeyes have also one game in the NCAA Tournament in each of Holtmann’s first two seasons leading the way as well. IN both 2017 and 2018, Ohio State began as an unranked team, with no pressure or target on their back.
This season is different. For the first time since Holtmann arrived in Columbus in 2017, the Buckeyes are ranked in the preseason AP Poll, checking in at No. 18. Entering the third season in the Holtmann Era, it will be the first time that Ohio State actually has some expectations to live up to, two of which are to not only be amongst the top teams in the Big Ten but to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament as well.
With just one senior, Ohio State is quite young, but the team also has plenty of experience as well. That, paired with the quartet of freshmen that Holtmann and his staff brought in this season, and many believe that it will combine to make one heckuva team, one that is expected to be Holtmann’s best since arriving at Ohio State, which says a lot. Ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, Michigan State is not only projected to be one of the top teams in the country but finish atop the Big Ten as well. Even if that’s the case, the Buckeyes will make things tough for the Spartans, especially if the younger players continue to develop, improve, and gain chemistry as the season goes along.
There might be a number of questions surrounding Holtmann’s Buckeyes this year, but with his success already in Columbus paired with the fact that this team is supposed to be the head coach’s best since taking over the Buckeyes in 2017, things are looking good for Ohio State on the hardwood.
With the Buckeyes taking on Cincinnati Wednesday night to tipoff their 2019-20 season, WFNY is here to give you a bit of a season preview for this year’s Ohio State men’s basketball team, a season that many believe can be a special one in Columbus.
Kaleb Wesson, the most important man in the middle
When Wesson was a freshman in high school, he weighed 255 pounds. As a junior, that number rose to 325. Then, that number fell to 270 as a senior. While his weight has fluctuated throughout his time as a Buckeye, Wesson knew that he had to remain around that number if he wanted to be a successful basketball player in college. After declaring for the NBA Draft, going through draft workouts and workouts with teams, it became even more apparent that he needed to shed a little more weight. Heading into this season, Wesson is now just 255 pounds.
Why do I tell you this? Simply because this will not only help the big man but help Ohio State as well. Whether it’s running the floor, using his skill set in different ways offensively, or just being in better shape, Wesson is ready to go.
Although foul trouble forced him to sit on the bench at times throughout last season, Wesson still led the team in points (14.6) and rebounds (6.9).
This season is key for the big man. Not only does he want to prove to NBA teams that he can be a successful post (and pop-and-shoot) player, but he also wants to show that with his weight loss, he can be used in a number of different ways as well. He improved his game in the post and has continued to make sure that he can knock down three-pointers as well, something is vital in today’s basketball.
Other players will need to step up, but the Buckeyes will go as far as Wesson takes them. If he can be a threat both from the inside and outside, Ohio State’s success will be quite evident. While Wesson’s leadership is also key, his production on the court is what the Buckeyes need the most. It’s what his NBA Draft dreams need, too.
According to ESPN’s John Gasaway, Wesson is the sixth-best player in the country entering this season.
Ohio State made the 2019 NCAA tournament by the narrowest of margins and upset No. 6-seeded Iowa State before losing by 15 to Houston. The Buckeyes project to have a much less stressful Selection Sunday next March, however, thanks in large part to Wesson. After excelling in efficiency as a freshman and in volume as a sophomore, Wesson could well put all of the above together in 2019-20. To do so, Wesson will have to be on the floor. As a junior, he picked up at least four fouls in 14 of his 32 appearances
If he is successful in doing all of that, the junior might just have millions of dollars waiting for him. It sounds like a win-win.
The Freshman Quartet
When the four-player freshmen class consisting of four-star point guard DJ Carton, four-star power forward EJ Liddell, four-star small forward Alonzo Gaffney, and three-star center Ibrahima Diallo is considered the best class in the Big Ten and ranked No. 14 nationally, plenty of hype and hope surround the group from the moment they arrive on campus. That continues to be the case for Ohio State.
Carton could very well be the starting point guard at points throughout this season, while one of Gaffney or Liddell could be in the starting lineup as well. Those three, along with Diallo, who will continue to develop and improve his game in the post, are key players for Ohio State this season.
“I think what I was pleased with is the four freshmen really did, I think, try to play the way that we’ve coached our group to play,” Holtmann said after Ohio State’s exhibition game last week. “And that’s really important. We didn’t have that, necessarily, across the board with our group, and that’s frustrating. But I think that those four guys kind of embraced what we’re asking. They didn’t play perfect. They missed some things. But I thought their approach was really good.”
Although they might be filled with plenty of unknowns given their lack of experience at the college level, their skillset and trajectories seem to make many think that they will be quite successful in Columbus, which will only help the Buckeyes do well on the basketball court.
Young but full of experience
Four freshmen, seven underclassmen, and just one senior. Ohio State is so young yet given the number of underclassmen that have played for Holtmann the past two years, the Buckeyes are in a really good position to use that experience to (finally) live up to the lofty expectations that they have this season.
Andre Wesson, an outstanding senior leader
The lone senior on the team, it’s obvious that Wesson must be a leader for this squad. Luckily enough, he’s going to be that and then some for the Buckeyes.
He may not put up the biggest numbers on a nightly basis, but with his leadership paired with his versatility on both ends of the floor, Wesson will play a major role in Ohio State’s success this season.
Holtmann and his success
In his first two seasons in Columbus, Holtmann led a group of Buckeyes that were expected to be average at best to a combined 45-24 record. That not only led to finishing in the top half of the Big Ten in each of his first two seasons but winning one game in the NCAA Tournament in each year as well. The head coach has continued to get the best out of his players, now it’s important that he does that even though the Buckeyes now have expectations to live up to this season.
Expectations and putting it all together
For the first time in the Holtmann Era, Ohio State has a target on its back. Not only are they a top-20 team in the country entering the season, but projected by many to finish among the top teams in the Big Ten as well. With a young but experienced team, it’s up to Holtmann to make sure he gets the best out of his players, just like he has over the past two seasons.
If he can do that, it could mean that the Buckeyes will not only be atop the Big Ten but compete for a No. 1 or No. 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament at season’s end. It just all comes down to how the Buckeyes can handle having expectations and trying to live up those all season. Instead of being the hunter, they are not the hunted.