Ohio State men’s basketball needs to be recharged with dangerous players with a specific set of skills

Building a list dependent (to some degree) on transfer players is nothing new for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, especially under Chris Holtmann. I do not think he draws to or prefers the transfer portal, but this is the new normal for college athletics. Players have the freedom to move around and look for the right fit, and in the end, the portal has helped OSU more than it has hurt them. Everything is good that ends well, I suppose.

This offseason presents an even bigger challenge for coach Holtmann and his staff. Yes, they have a great recruitment class on the way and that helps. On paper. Five freshmen should be an integral part of the team’s future success, and I think the group has a high collective ceiling. But they are unproven at the university level. I will ignore any first-year projections (so far) and focus on what we know or think the team is losing.

The Buckeyes are likely to lose their two best players – each expected to go in the first round of the NBA Draft – and a number of other role players. The program could have faced a similar situation last year, but EJ Liddell decided to return and improve his game. One could argue that OSU was a better team in 2021-22 because they participated in the NCAA tournament as a 2-seed, but the (potential) loss of talent is significantly greater this offseason.

Liddell improved his game significantly from one year to the next and Malaki Branham proved to be a star. If both leave, as expected, Holtmann will be in unknown territory. He has never been forced to deal with the loss of two leading talents, and the program has not dealt with such losses since the Greg Oden / Mike Conley / Daequan Cook trio left after the 2006-07 season. I do not compare Liddell and Branham to Oden and Conley, but both tandems were the obvious head of the eloquent snake.

In addition to the confirmed and / or expected departures from Liddell and Branham, (now) former Buckeyes Kyle Young, Jamari Wheeler, Joey Brunk, Cedric Russell and Jimmy Sotos have all exhausted their entitlement. Justin Ahrens announced his intention to transfer on Monday, setting the number of known losses at seven. Justice Sueing and Seth Towns could participate in the mass exodus, but I would expect at least one of those guys to return – if not both. In all, Ohio State is losing – or has the potential to lose – about 50 years of college basketball experience and about 80 percent of their scores from this season.

So what does OSU need? First and foremost, they need to go out and grab an all-conference, two-way player that is capable of being named to the Wooden Award watch list. Easier said than done, but should not be a problem. Second on the priority list is a superb shooter with one-and-done potential. They’re a dime a dozen, no problem … Hopefully you’re caught the sarcasm now, because I’m putting it on quite thickly.

In fact, the Buckeyes are not going to replace Liddell and Branham. Hopefully they do not shall replace stud freshman. But they can still go for players who share a similar-enough skill, and guys who have a past history of production and / or success. The rest of the build should be aimed at finding players who can replace one or two things that the outgoing players did very well. That’s what we’re looking at here. Remember that players can fit into more than one category.


Scoring presence / potential go-to guy

Good news! Holtmann and his staff have already checked this off the list. See, I understand that Tanner Holden filled out the statistics sheet at a small conference, and the same was said about Cedric Russell a year ago. But I’m infinitely more excited about the Wright State transfer. The team is more efficient than Russell has ever dreamed of being (no attack on Cedric), and his defense / rebound does not make him a liability in other facets of the game (seriously, no attack on Cedric). His worst the shooting percentage for a season is 49.7. He does not force three-point attempts, he comes to the FT line a bunch and he will not be suffocated by much bigger defenders in his position.

While Holden is unlikely to put the 20 PPGs he had on average at WSU, this native of Ohio could step in and give the Buckeyes 15 on a consistent basis. He and Sueing could be interchangeable on the wing or share the floor regularly. The team was a huge winner, giving Ohio State a well-known bucket-getter to help fill the void left by Liddell and Branham.


Point guard … point guard, point guard, point guard

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Bruce Thornton is another fresh face I look forward to seeing, but let’s not pretend that first year point guards are reliable. Georgias Mr. Basketball has a bit of everything in its bag, and OSU fans should be very excited about his future, but the Buckeyes need a proven, stable ball dealer to help drive the offense. If Thornton is Mike Conley or De’Angelo Russell’s second arrival, great … but you can never have too many point guards – which is something I think OSU has learned the hard way this season. The PG game was awful with Wheeler out of the game. Holtmann has gone to the “PG transfer well” several times during his time in Columbus and generally found success. If it’s not broken, do not repair it …

CJ Walker and Wheeler are recent examples of Holtmann looking for experience rather than excitement, specifically at the PG position. Both Walker and Wheeler were proven veterinarians, known for playing by themselves, taking care of basketball and finding open teammates. Good-to-good defense was the icing on the cake with the guys. Next year’s team will need a similar firm hand.

If you look back at matches from this recently concluded season, you have to say that the ball was in the hands of Liddell, Branham or Wheeler most of the time. Defendant (if he returns) can handle the ball and I do not forget Meechie Johnson, but none of the players are a real point guard. Even if Ohio State were to land a Jimmy Sotos-level PG, I think it would pay huge dividends for them. With a team filled with strangers, it would be very beneficial to find a guy who do knows what to do with the ball in his hands consistently.


A sniper

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The Buckeyes shot 36.5 percent over the arc this season … I know, I’m just as shocked as you. I would have guessed 26.5. Despite ranking in the top-50 nationally in three-point percentages, the team lacked a dangerous (and far-consistent) perimeter specialist. Liddell and Branham were effective from the outside, but hardly volume shooters and the same could be said about Wheeler. Ahrens was expected to break out and be that guy in his fourth season, but it never came to anything. Now, Meechie is the best recurring “shooter,” which does not inspire much confidence.

This team needs a shooter a la Jon Diebler – or whatever Ahrens was at his best. Snipers are not easy to find, but the Buckeyes could desperately use a floor spacer to offset Zed Key’s inner presence and Holden’s ability to cut / score and hopefully sue. The lack of consistent shooting this season was especially noticeable when looking at the assist numbers and / or the effectiveness of Wheeler as a creator. He led the team with only 2.9 assists per game, but did not have an abundance of opportunities to kick it to. His low assist numbers were strongly influenced by the players around him. I’m not saying OSU needs Larry Bird out there, but the current lack of shooting is worrying.


Rebounding / rotating stores

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Ohio State loses Liddell, Young and Brunk … that’s it. I have nothing else deep to say about their departures. What I want to point out is that all three on average had at least five rebounds as starters / rotators. Do not forget that Brunk has a mini-Shaq race in three games, where he averaged close to seven boards per game. game. All three are now gone.

The addition of Tanner Holden as a rebounding wing will help, as will the potential return of Sueing, but the Buckeyes still lack significant size. The upcoming freshman Felix Okpara is a hyper-athletic major, but he will need to gather and gain more experience. The rest of the front line consists of Zed Key and … Zed Key. We saw what happened when Young and Key struggled with injuries this year, so it should really be a matter of course that OSU needs guys who can play the four and / or five spots.


In a few months, I really believe that Holtmann and the Buckeyes will do well on their way into the 2022-23 season. But there is a wealth of moving parts when it comes to the future list, and I think it is fair to express concern. Right now – today – Ohio State fans can say with certainty that it consists of Zed Key, Meechie Johnson, Eugene Brown, Kalen Etzler, Harrison Hookfin, Tanner Holden and five newcomers. In short: it’s not going to get it done, folks.

To sue to announce his return would be a huge development. He was pretty good last year. He is also a veteran of nearly 100 games, at a time when the Buckeyes need experience. And Towns would be a bonus lottery ticket. But the team has roles to fill, and certain “types” of players would fit well with the current squad.

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