Earlier this week, we wrote the wildly optimistic case for Ohio State basketball this season. You might have to squint, especially during this run of bad news, but there is still a path for the Buckeyes to improve, make the NCAA Tournament, and turn the program back towards the regular Big Ten title contention we’ve come to expect. It’s a narrow path, but it does exist.
But this website is fair and balanced, and we have to admit, there’s also a path where the wheels absolutely fall off for the Buckeyes. And we should probably talk about that too.
This roster has zero depth right now
Thanks to attrition and transfers, right now, Ohio State has the roster of a basketball program under NCAA sanctions. There are exactly two centers on the roster for next season, a true sophomore and a true freshman, and the sophomore is probably a better fit as a stretch four anyway. There are two point guards, C.J. Jackson, and Braxton Beverly, a true freshman who the Buckeyes flipped from the MAC. Even the walk-ons are leaving. Right now, the Buckeyes have just 10 players on their roster. These are problems.
It’s possible Ohio State can patch some of these roster holes with graduate transfers, but the window to add players is closing, and the possibility that Ohio State will head into next season with a drastically thin roster is increasing. That might end up working out, but if players get injured, or even if they get into foul trouble (something that’s probably likely with a big man rotation of Micah Potter and Kaleb Wesson), the Buckeyes could really struggle. And if a point guard or big man gets injured and has to miss appreciable amounts of time, things could get even worse.
Ohio State’s best player is coming off a serious injury
To make matters worse, there is no way the Buckeyes make the NCAA Tournament, and probably not even the NIT, unless Keita Bates-Diop has a big season. KBD brings a ton of important skills to the table for the Buckeyes. He can shoot. He can defend multiple positions. He has experience, and is a team leader.
But he also missed almost all of last season with a stress fracture, and he struggled with other injuries even before that (he missed five games in November). Plus, when he was on the court, his shooting lagged (he hit only 20% from three), and other production dipped.
If he’s healthy, KBD is capable of performing at an All-Big Ten caliber. But he’ll need to do more than just lock up opposing wings. He’s going to need to shoot and score, and based on (admittedly small sample size of) last season, the extent that he’ll be able to do that over the course of an entire year just isn’t known. If he can to do it? Awesome. And if he can’t do it...well...
Just who is going to score, exactly?
Thad Matta’s best teams have thrived on a defense-first mindset, and Big Ten games often devolve into grindfests, but as Uncle Drew taught us, the game has always been about buckets. Ohio State won’t win games if they can’t get buckets, and without Thompson, Loving or Lyle, who exactly is getting those buckets is not clear.
C.J. Jackson’s three point shooting improved dramatically near the end of last season, but over the course of the season, he still only shot 32% from downtown, and he can’t get to the basket and create his own shot like Lyle. Jae’Sean Tate plays hard, is super fun, and has improved every year, and he’ll probably lead the team in scoring, but he also can’t space the flour, and hey, he’s still 6-4. Micah Potter can splash threes, but he’ll need to learn to defend well enough to stay on the court. Kam Williams is very streaky. Kaleb Wesson is a freshman.
When you don’t have clearly defined scorer roles, that means you’re relying on scoring by committee. That can work, but it means that you can’t afford an off-night by nearly anybody on the roster. And with the Buckeyes counting heavily on either role players with defined flaws, or underclassmen, that’s a very risky plan.
Oh yeah, this schedule is hard
We don’t know Ohio State’s full schedule yet, including the Big Ten slate, but we know enough to know it won’t be easy. The Buckeyes have to play the defending national champs (UNC) in New Orleans. They’ll play in a massive non-conference tournament that will feature at least two games against brand-name teams. They’ll face a Big Ten gauntlet with a vastly improved Illinois squad, a Penn State team that returns a ton of big name recruits, Minnesota and Northwestern squads that could compete for Big Ten titles, and oh yeah, the usual suspects like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Maryland, etc.
In mid-May, it’s hard to point to many teams in the Big Ten who project to be much worse than they were last year. Every game is going to be a battle.
Now, that means there’ll be plenty of RPI points to be had, but it also means that if there are injuries, or if the young players are not mentally strong, then little slumps can become big slumps in a hurry.
This is a pivotal season for Ohio State basketball. With a few roster additions, the future might look a little rosier, and it’s still possible for the Buckeyes to start their rebuilding effort in a big way. But that path is very narrow, and if just a few things go wrong, things could get ugly in a hurry.