Okay, let’s start out with an absolutely explosive and controversial take: Ohio State basketball is not very good right now.
We can rehash the hows and the whys later, but whether it’s because of injuries, or coaching, or development, or roster construction, or something else, this team isn’t going anywhere. Maybe they make the NIT and get an extra game or two. Maybe they miss it entirely. But it would be very unlikely for anything to happen this year that would make Ohio State fans consider this season to be anything other than a serious disappointment.
Even if Ohio State fans would like some dramatic changes with the program, right now, that doesn’t seem likely. Thad Matta is the best basketball coach Ohio State has ever had, and even with the program declining over the last four years, there haven’t been any reports to think he’s lost so much political capital with Gene Smith that he’d be forced out, even if the Buckeyes miss the NIT.
But coaching changes or not, Ohio State’s roster is going to look different next year. Maybe a lot different. Is it good enough to end Ohio State’s skid and get back to the NCAAs? Is it worth getting excited about?
Let’s take a closer look.
JaQuan Lyle (Junior)
C.J Jackson (Junior)
Braxton Beverly (Freshman)
Even with a disappointing season, there’s a non-trivial chance that JaQuan Lyle could be playing somewhere other than Columbus next season. He’s a bit old for his age, and if he wanted to pursue a professional basketball career, either in the NBA G-League or overseas, he may want to do that sooner rather than later. Lyle almost certainly wasn’t recruited to be a four-year type player anyway. The fact that Ohio State is issuing offers to other 2017 point guards right now could be a sign that they expect an opening at this position group as well.
If Lyle leaves, this is probably the biggest question mark on the roster. Jackson’s three point shooting has cratered this season (based on his JUCO performances, he can’t shoot under 25% from three again, right?), and with Beverly, the Buckeyes would be unproven, and also small, at the position. Beverly has been a prolific high school scorer, but likely will need seasoning before he’s ready to contribute big minutes for Ohio State.
Kam Williams (RS Senior)
There are plenty of other guys who may see time on the wing, as the Buckeyes may use some of their “forwards” at this spot interchangeably, but in terms of a pure off-ball guard, it’s basically Williams. As it stands, Williams will be the returning player that’s averaged the most minutes per game, and is probably the team’s best three point shooter. He’s been a bit streaky, but when he’s on, he can be a microwave. Whether he’s coming off the bench or starting, he’ll be an important piece of the puzzle next year.
Keita Bates-Diop (Senior)
Andre Wesson (Sophomore)
It isn’t 100% clear if Bates-Diop will get a medical redshirt or not (Ohio State will seek one), so he might have a year of eligibility after next season. His ability to not only stretch the floor, but defend multiple positions, will be critical for the Buckeyes, and if they’re going to return to the NCAAs, they’ll need his rangy self at full health.
There’s some potential young talent here as well. Wesson hasn’t seen much time this season, but has showed his ability to be a defensive playmaker, and as he gets more comfortable with his shot, may help stretch the floor as well.
Jae’Sean Tate (Senior)
Derek Funderburk (RS Freshman)
Tate will slide around depending on how the lineups are structured, but he’ll be back to fight for rebounds, hustle plays, and bulldog his way around the court. Tate may be a bit of a limited player because of his size and shooting, but as a contributing player, he’s been more than solid.
Funderburk was actually the highest ranked recruit of the 2016 class, but his positional fit isn’t exactly clear. If he’s able to be a significant contributor for next year, Ohio State’s bench will get substantially more athletic and dangerous.
Trevor Thompson (RS Senior)
Micah Potter (Sophomore)
Kaleb Wesson (Freshman)
David Bell (RS Senior)
This is another potentially interesting group. Thompson went through the NBA Draft process last year, and after a strong season, he also may decide to pursue a professional basketball career. Getting him back would be huge for Ohio State, as it would certainly give them great depth with the bigs.
Potter was a surprise starter this year, and brings shooting that the rest of this group lacks. He’s shown that he needs to get stronger and improve his defensive awareness this season, but that’s true of basically non-elite center prospect.
He’ll be joined by the top 2017 recruit Kaleb Wesson, who may also see time at center. Wesson has had an outstanding high school senior season, and could give Ohio State something they’ve lacked for a few years, an ability to manufacture baskets inside in the paint on a regular basis. It just might not happen immediately. Dave Bell rounds out the group, and he’s shown solid energy, but doesn’t look to be a likely big minutes contributor.
Can Potter, Wesson and Thompson potentially play together? If they’re all back and healthy, Ohio State could go super big and just bully teams down low. If Thompson leaves, the Buckeyes will be young, but will have options down low.
Is this good enough for a dramatic improvement? If either Lyle or Thompson leaves, perhaps Ohio State will pursue a graduate transfer (maybe at point guard) to help plug some roster holes. The Buckeyes look to have a very solid 2018 recruiting class, headlined by some of the best in Ohio, but if they struggle badly next season, that could call the future into question a little bit.
You can talk yourself into some improvement in the frontcourt, and if the Buckeyes can stay healthy and get something from Andre Wesson and Funderburk, there’s something there.
But it’s a harder sell than the past few years, especially since big jumps from players like Tate, Bates-Diop and Williams aren’t likely. Plus, the Buckeyes will need to replace Marc Loving’s production.
One thing is clear: Ending this season on a positive note would make the transition to next year a little bit easier.