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Five players from Ohio State’s 2017 recruiting class present reasons for optimism

J.K. Dobbins led the new Buckeyes, bursting onto the scene setting the Ohio State freshman rushing record.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

“The final verdict is still at least a couple years away, and the sample size for Ohio State’s touted 2017 recruiting class is small. But it’s never too early for a progress report, particularly after so many newcomers made splashy debuts with the Buckeyes and appear to be well on the way to becoming stars in the Big Ten.”

Austin Ward, Land of 10

There is no question that running back J.K. Dobbins has been the star of Ohio State’s 2017 recruiting class so far, but he hasn’t been the only new Buckeye to impress this year. Dobbins got the call to start early on, as running back Mike Weber started the season dealing with a hamstring injury. The Texas product didn’t take long to make some waves, rushing for 181 yards in a win over Indiana. Dobbins went on to become the fourth Ohio State freshman to rush for 1,000 yards, breaking Maurice Clarett’s school record for most rushing yards by a freshman.

He didn’t get a ton of action during the season, but defensive end Chase Young was able to find some reps amongst a talented Ohio State defensive line. With players like Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, and Tyquan Lewis already lining up at defensive end, it would have been easy to redshirt Young this year. Instead, Young finished the year with 2.5 sacks, and saw time during high pressure situations for the Buckeyes, especially during the Michigan game. With a number of defensive linemen leaving after this year, the future is bright for Young.

Cornerback Kendall Sheffield saw a little more playing time than some of his teammates in the secondary who came to Ohio State at the same time, primarily because Sheffield already had some playing experience after coming to Ohio State as a transfer. If Sheffield remains in Columbus for another year, he could team with Jeffrey Okudah in the secondary, who made a name for himself with strong play on special teams in 2017.

The biggest question mark of the 2017 recruiting class is going to be quarterback Tate Martell. After being thrust into action following an injury to J.T. Barrett against Michigan, Dwayne Haskins looks to have a firm grasp on the starting quarterback position next year. That doesn’t mean Haskins won’t see some competition, especially from Martell. Even if Martell isn’t able to win the starting job, Ohio State will likely try to find a way to utilize his athletic ability on offense.

“We’re continually figuring out his system, how he wants us to run on offense in transition and half court. That prepares guys to be better prepared to shoot. You know where the ball’s going to come from, you know how to find the seams in the zone.”

Ohio State guard Kam Williams on Chris Holtmann’s offense via Adam Jardy, The Columbus Dispatch

Despite positing a 5-3 record through the first eight games of the season, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann had a simple message for his players. Take better shots. Mainly Holtmann was talking about the type of three-pointers Ohio State was taking during the first eight games of the season that left a lot to be desired.

Ohio State started the season shooting 32.7% from behind the arc in their first eight games of the season. Since Holtmann asked his players to take better shots, Ohio State has been considerably better from long range, making 23 of 48 three-pointers over the next three games. On Saturday against William & Mary, Ohio State hit a season-high 11 three-pointers against the Tribe.

One big thing to remember when looking at Ohio State basketball so far this season, is the Buckeyes are just 11 games into Holtmann’s tenure, and to respond so positively early on is impressive. Many thought that the first year under the former Butler coach would be rough, especially with the lack of depth and experience for the Buckeyes, but so far Ohio State has found plenty of success early on. While expectations still shouldn’t get too out of hand, the Buckeyes are improving tremendously as they adjust to Holtmann’s style of play.

“I think if he consistently improves in those areas like he has, I think the sky is the limit. I certainly think he can be one of the best players in our league for sure. He’s got to do it consistently; he’s got to do it on both ends and he’s got to do it in all facets of the game.”

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann on Keita Bates-Diop via Patrick Murphy, Bucknuts

There is no question who Ohio State basketball’s most valuable player has been so far this year. After missing most of last year due to injury, forward Keita Bates-Diop is making up for some lost time with his performance. The junior is leading Ohio State with 18.3 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game so far this year.

All of Bates-Diop’s time on the floor hasn’t been perfect though. While Bates-Diop is leading Ohio State with 32.8 minutes per game, head coach Chris Holtmann has seen some times where he feels Bates-Diop was underperforming, most notably early on against William & Mary on Saturday. Holtmann brought Bates-Diop to the bench to re-focus, and the junior did just that, finishing with a career-high 27 points in the victory.

With the lack of depth and experience that the Ohio State basketball team has, Holtmann can’t afford to have any lapses on the court from Bates-Diop. Not only does Holtmann rely on the junior forward to be the most productive, but he also needs Bates-Diop to set an example for what the coach expects from his players on the court not only for this year, but going forward. So far, Bates-Diop has been up to the task, but Ohio State is going to need even more from him as they will been venturing back into conference play after the New Year.