The Buckeyes ended last season with a 90-84 loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They were one of the biggest surprise teams in the nation last season finishing 25-9 and 15-3 in conference play. They were projected by every major sports news outlet to finish in at best the bottom third of the Big Ten. They ended up finishing third in the conference. New head coach Chris Holtmann was named 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year and deservedly so.
I do not expect the Buckeyes to be quite as good this year but I also would not be shocked if they were a surprise team again this year. Ohio State loses their two best players Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, as well as Kam Williams, an excellent scorer, and veteran leader Andrew Dakich. However, they bring back starters Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson and some solid role players like Micah Potter and Andre Wesson. Grad transfer Keyshawn Woods should also step into a large role right away.
One thing that could hold the Buckeyes back this season is their lack of a go-to scorer. There are several candidates to fill that void though. The leading candidate is senior point guard C.J. Jackson. Jackson averaged 12.6 points and 3.9 rebounds and assists last season while shooting 38% from beyond the arc. He is a veteran who can do a little bit of everything on the court. Jackson can create off the dribble and rebounds well for being just 6’1″. Kaleb Wesson could also develop into their #1 scoring option. The 6’9″ center averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds as a freshman last year and will continue to improve. He only shot 9 three-pointers last season and made just 2 of them but I think Wesson’s jumper could be a threat this season. He has a smooth stroke and shot 71% from the free throw line last season. Lastly, Keyshawn Woods could also potentially fill the scoring void in Columbus. The grad transfer from Wake Forest averaged 12 points each of the last two seasons. Woods is quite versatile and as he describes his game, he makes the winning plays. Woods will do whatever is needed for the Buckeyes to win games. Jackson and Woods will be extremely valuable in tough road environments during conference play when experience is especially important.
Besides Keyshawn Woods, the Buckeyes also bring in a pair of decent recruits who could outperform expectations. Jaedon Ledee is a 6’9″ power forward who was ranked #61 in the class by ESPN and Luther Muhammad is a shooting guard from New Jersey who was ranked #64 in his class by ESPN. Both have high upside and should be given the opportunity to prove themselves as this team will likely lack depth this season.
I believe the Buckeyes will finish in the top half of the Big Ten this year, but 2019 and 2020 will be two of the best teams Ohio State has had in a long time. Chris Holtmann has proven to be an excellent recruiter and according to 247 Sports, he has the #5 class of 2019. This will drop a little because he is stopping at three players, but few classes will rival the quality of players Holtmann is bringing in. ESPN’s #24 player in the class, D.J. Carton, will be Ohio State’s best point guard since D’Angelo Russell. Carton is a 5-star recruit that can shoot from the perimeter and run the fast break. He will be the best point guard who has played under Holtmann and I am excited to see him create in this free-flowing offense. Ohio-native Alonzo Gaffney is also a huge get for the Buckeyes. He is a long, athletic small forward that is ESPN’s #29 player. He possesses a very good jump shot but will need to bulk up before he gets to Columbus. Gaffney is 6’8″ but just 185 pounds. Rounding out the class of 2019 is power forward E.J. Liddell. Liddell is a 6’7″ bruiser who is ranked #44 in the class by ESPN. He plays with aggression and power but good shooting and passing ability too. Liddell, last year’s Illinois Mr. Basketball along with Alonzo Gaffney will abuse the Schottenstein Center’s rims. Liddell has incredible shot blocking ability too, especially for being 6’7″. He averaged nearly 2 blocks a game on the EYBL circuit and had 7 blocks in the state championship game last season. I think he will be much better than the 44th best college basketball player in his class. His ranking is likely hurt because his height does not translate well to the NBA. All three of these players are also the type of physical, two-way players that Chris Holtmann loves to coach. There is another new Buckeye in 2019, transfer C.J. Walker. He’ll sit out this season but will be very valuable when he is eligible. Walker was Florida State’s starting point guard on their Elite Eight run last year and averaged 8 points along the way. He will provide valuable experience after senior guards C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods are gone. He’ll be able to teach D.J. Carton a lot and help him throughout the year.
These 2019 and 2020 teams will have a very complete, talented, and deep roster. They’ll have good guards, Carton, Walker, and Luther Muhammad. They’ll have strong defense and depth at the forward position with Andre Wesson, Musa Jallow, and Jaedon Ledee behind Gaffney and Liddell. At center, Kaleb Wesson will have developed into an all-conference type of player and Micah Potter will be coming off the bench in 2019. The roster will likely look like that for 2019 and 2020 will be very similar. I don’t think it is impossible but I would be surprised if any of Carton, Gaffney, or Liddell were a one and done. Also, Holtmann was active on the transfer market last offseason and I would expect that to continue.
If you’re a Buckeyes fan do not look at this season as just a throwaway season before they load up. Ohio State has a good team and will definitely be competitive in the Big Ten and could surprise people and sneak into the tournament. But yes, look forward to the next couple years after that, be excited for Ohio State hoops as long as Chris Holtmann is the coach.