Saturday’s loss in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament was a practically perfect microcosm for all of the strengths and weaknesses that this Ohio State basketball team possessed. No. 4 Gonzaga’s sheer athleticism allowed them to race out to a 15-0 lead before Jea’Sean Tate hit OSU’s first bucket.
The lack of depth that head coach Chris Holtmann had to work with was exacerbated throughout, as two of his most impactful starters—Tate and Kaleb Wesson— were saddled with foul trouble (and no, we aren’t getting into the officiating here).
But then, the team’s unadulterated heart and tenacity propelled them to an unimaginable comeback, erasing the early deficit to claim a five-point lead with just a handful of minutes remaining in the game.
Ultimately though, the experience that last year’s national runners-up had was just too much for the Buckeyes to withstand, as the Zags came back to secure the 90-84 victory and a berth to the Sweet 16.
And with that heartbreaking loss, the attention of Holtmann, his staff, and his team now turns to the 2018-19 season. The Buckeyes will be saying goodbye to three seniors: Tate, Kam Williams and Andrew Dakich.
While they have each had wildly different tenures in the scarlet and gray, this season they all had moments when they shone, especially Tate, the team’s heart.
There is also the distinct possibility that Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop will depart following his red-shirt junior season as well. Having already secured his degree in Economics and having been a part of the program for four years due to his injury last season, KBD participated in last month’s Senior Night.
While his draft position varies wildly depending on the projector (SBNation, Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, NBADraft.net), Bates-Diop has the size and athleticism needed to excel in the NBA. While he will likely need to work on his strength and conditioning, he should be a late-first round pick. So, while we would love to see KBD come back for one more season (just like we would have loved to have seen how Trevor Thompson could have impacted this year’s team), we are going to operate under the assumption that he will not be playing in Columbus next season (unless it’s part of the TBT team).
So, what does that mean for Holtmann’s roster next season? The final collection of players that he will be working with is still unknown. High school basketball players can begin to sign their National Letters of Intent on April 11, and the final signing date is May 16.
Currently, the Buckeyes have the 24th rated recruiting class, according to 247Sports, but, with all of the turnover in players in recent years, Holtmann still has spots that he needs to fill.
Like with Dakich this year, Holtmann might be able to find short-term solutions with graduate transfers, like Evansville’s Ryan Taylor or Pittsburgh’s Ryan Luther.
Evansville grad transfer Ryan Taylor has heard from Butler, Northwestern, Vandy, South Carolina, Ohio St, Ole Miss, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois, Georgetown, Creighton, Minnesota, BC, Indiana, UCLA, Arizona, Wake, Miami, Purdue, Baylor, Maryland & Missouri, source told ESPN.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 18, 2018
Eight Pittsburgh players have asked for — and are expected to receive — their releases to explore a transfer elsewhere, sources told ESPN. STORY: https://t.co/STP4ojowVy— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 16, 2018
So, while there are still plenty of metaphorical balls in the air, let’s take a look at what the starting lineup might be for the Buckeyes when they open up play again in November.
As this season progressed, C.J. Jackson began handling the ball less, and shooting more. Though probably technically designated as the team’s point guard, early season turnover issues prompted Holtmann to look to Dakich, and even Tate, to handle the ball.
After being temporarily removed from the starting lineup, Jackson began to take much better care of the ball, and started shooting like he did as an NJCAA All-American at Eastern Florida State.
Whether or not he is slotted in as the point guard next year— or even if that terminology means anything in today’s college basketball or not— Jackson will assuredly be one of the guards leading the Buckeyes next year.
He finished the season averaging 12.6 points per game, bested only by Bates-Diop, while shooting 41.6 percent from the floor, and 37.9 percent from beyond the arc. He will be an even bigger part of the Buckeyes’ success next year.
The only other guard of consequence remaining on the roster is Musa Jallow, and even though he started 10 games during his freshman year, he never seemed to feel at home on the floor. Now, granted, he was still 17 when the season started, but his 29 turnovers to just 27 assists likely does not breed the confidence a coach would need to keep Jallow in the starting rotation for a full season.
Therefore, I think it likely that this second guard spot will go to someone not currently on the roster; be that a transfer like Taylor, who led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring this year, or a true-freshman like four-star recruit Luther Muhammad.
Jallow will certainly be in the mix throughout the season, as OSU continues to struggle with back-court depth, but I would be surprised if he started to open next campaign.
For me, the turning point in the season for Andre Wesson was in the upset victory over then-No. 3 Purdue in February. With his younger brother Kaleb on the bench in foul-trouble, Andre was asked to guard 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas. Note: Andre Wesson is 6-foot-6.
Despite the eight-inch disparity between the pair, Haas was held to just two points in the second half, after going for 16 in the first 20 minutes.
From there, Andre Wesson continued to see his playing time increase, and more importantly, it came at more critical moments in games. No longer was he a bridge until a starter had gotten an adequate rest, but the older of the Wesson brothers proved that he could be someone that Holtmann could rely on.
While I don’t ever see Andre Wesson being the focus of a Buckeye basketball team, he has proven that he has the ability to do a lot of different things, and will likely be a valuable veteran next year.
I don’t necessarily like, or feel comfortable with, this one, but Micah Potter, the 6-foot-9 Canal Winchester product will probably get the opportunity to begin the season in the starting lineup, just as he has as a freshman and sophomore. However, after dealing with an ankle injury in November, Potter never seemed to develop the consistency that Holtmann needed to keep him on the floor for very long.
However, he did show flashes of what he was capable of at various times throughout the season; whether it was stretching the defense and hitting a three, or using his 240 lbs. frame and pulling down a rebound.
If he is not able to capitalize on the opportunity as a junior, I would not be surprised if current-freshman Kyle Young, or incoming-freshman Jaedon LeDee started getting more playing time as the season went on.
Personally, in two years, I have not seen Potter do enough to warrant a third shot at securing a starting role, but size is a commodity in college basketball. And, when your options are limited, you have to take what you can get; and Holtmann might have to do just that.
There is probably a lot about the NCAA Tournament that Kaleb Wesson would like to do over. In the first two tournament games of his collegiate career, the younger Wesson played only 19 minutes, and scored only thee points, all while picking up five personal fouls.
While foul trouble kept him on the bench against Gonzaga, it was a strategic decision by Holtmann to go small against South Dakota State. Either way, it certainly was not the weekend that the former Mr. Ohio Basketball had envisioned, and it showed on his face at the end of the Gonzaga game.
Despite the disappointment, when Wesson was able to stay on the floor against the Zags, he was dominant. As the Buckeyes opened the second half down 11, he provided the spark that eventually led to ferocious comeback.
However, with a year of collegiate basketball under his belt, more will be expected of Wesson in the 2018-19, and that starts now. While he’s always been on the bigger side, an illness leading up to the start of the season prevented him from fully conditioning. And while he has lost considerable weight since arriving on campus, if he wants to be the cornerstone of the team next year, he will need to be stronger and able to play more than the 20:40 per game he did this year.
If he is able to do that, he would be an unbelievable weapon for the Buckeyes. During his freshman campaign, he averaged 19.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per 40 minutes. While he is never going to play a full 40 minutes, if Wesson continues to develop his skills and his body, (with the help of student assistant Greg Oden) he could be the next great Buckeye big man.