Despite all of the hoopla surrounding this Saturday’s Ohio State football game in Happy Valley against Penn State, believe it or not, there was reason to be excited about basketball as well yesterday, as the OSU men’s basketball team held its 2018 media day.
Not only did head coach Chris Holtmann address the media, but reporters also got a chance to talk to players, and to tour the basketball program’s upgraded home inside the Schottenstein Center.
We broke down the biggest storylines from media day below, but if you want to check out Holtmann’s press conference before you read about those, you can do that here:
1) “The biggest question for this group is who’s going to answer the bell in crunch-time situations. The exciting thing is that we have a lot of new guys, but it also makes us anxious. Time will tell.”
~ Chris Holtmann
The 2017-18 Ohio State men’s basketball team was an unexpected gift that very few fans saw coming. Despite back-to-back disappointing seasons under Thad Matta, with the program reinvigorated under Chris Holtmann, veteran leaders like Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, and Kam Williams turned in phenomenal campaigns, and gave Buckeye fans a season to be proud of.
Now, as the program prepares for a new season, those players, along with graduate transfer Andrew Dakich, are gone. So, as the Buckeyes open up their non-conference season on Nov. 7 against Cincinnati, there will likely be a lot of feeling out that has to take place for the team to figure out the roles that each player will assume this year.
Despite all of the departures, there will be veterans contributors returning for the Buckeyes, including senior C.J. Jackson, juniors Andre Wesson and Micah Potter, and sophomore Kaleb Wesson. Holtmann also brought in a bit of experience in Wake Forest graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods as well.
In addition, the Buckeyes will have a new slate of young stars entering the program this year, as highly sought-after freshmen Justin Ahrens, Jaedon Ledee, Luther Muhammad, and Duane Washington Jr. join the program.
Other than Kaleb Wesson, Holtmann used his freshmen— Musa Jallow and Kyle Young— fairly sparingly last year, especially as the season went on; although each had opportunities to contribute throughout the season.
Holtmann’s rotation changed quite a bit from November to December and into the new year, so fans should expect quite a bit of rearranging as Holtmann sees what his new squad can accomplish. It stands to reason that it will likely be Jackson, the two Wessons, Woods, Potter, and Jallow getting the majority of the minutes early with the freshmen being rotated in.
However, with the exception of Kaleb Wesson, many of this year’s freshmen are coming into the program as far higher ranked prospects than anyone else on the squad. So, it will be interesting to see how much that their talent can overcome their inexperience for this Buckeye team.
2) “I feel like I’m in better shape than I was at the end of the year. As big as I am my game had to change… I have to keep my conditioning up, but I can’t slow down.”
~ Kaleb Wesson
This here is a big deal, and should terrify coaches and big men around the Big Ten. Kaleb Wesson, at times, was a dominant force down low for the Buckeyes in 2017-18, but more often than not, either conditioning or foul trouble (which probably was at least in part due to conditioning) kept him from playing the number of minutes that would be required for him to truly take over a game.
But, if Kaleb is in the type of shape that will allow him to play 30 minutes per game, rather than the 20.7 that he averaged as a freshman, his increased production will go a long way to compensating for some of the guys that the team has lost.
Kaleb was fourth on the team in scoring last year averaging 10.2 points per game, but led in shooting percentage (.562 percent). With Bates-Diop having moved onto the NBA, I think it is safe to say that Wesson is the most talented player returning from last year. Some of the freshmen might eventually eclipse him, but I don’t know that I would count on it.
So, with scorers like KBD, Tate, and Williams now gone, the opportunities for the younger Wesson to score will obviously increase, and it will be incumbent upon him to make sure that he is on the floor as much as possible, because his ability to score and dominate down low will go a long way to making things easier for Jackson, Woods, Jallow, et al.
If he is able to stay in shape and stay out of foul trouble, Kaleb Wesson would be not only one of the best players in the the Big Ten, but in the country as well.
3) Ohio State basketball facilities get an upgrade
So often we hear about the importance of the facilities race when it comes to college football, but the same is absolutely true when it comes to college basketball. With a new head coach, the new digs are an added reminder that the Ohio State men’s basketball team is an exciting program on the rise. And while they’ll never compete with the football facilities across the street at the Woody Hayes Athletics Center, the new home of the basketball program is still pretty impressive.
4) “We’re a defensive team first and that’s what’s going to come first. Coach likes to say no matter if we’re here or on the road our defense can stay the same.”
~ C.J. Jackson
When you think about consummate defenders in recent Ohio State basketball history, your mind is likely immediately drawn to Aaron Craft. The rosy-cheeked, floor-slapping, gritty, more moxie than talent point guard that defined the last chapter of the Thad Matta era. It remains to be seen if this team will have a standout defender like Craft. However, they don’t really need one.
Holtmann has assembled a long, athletic team that will likely rely more on team defense, than the individual, annoying style that Craft employed. Of the players likely to see considerable playing time this season, Jackson is the only one shorter than 6-foot-3 (he’s 6’1). With athletic, younger wings like Jallow, Muhammad and Ahrens there should bring an added intensity to the perimeter defense for this team. If Kaleb Wesson can remain on the floor, and lock down the lane, the Buckeyes will should be able to compensate for any offensive decline they suffer because of the departure of players from last season.
Defense in college basketball is often about scheme and effort. I think that it is incredibly evident to anyone who watched last season that Holtmann is extremely capable of putting his players in the best positions to defend (think back to Andre Wesson’s heroic effort against Purdue’s Isaac Haas).
So, if he can get them to buy-in on the effort side—which by all indications, that wasn’t a tough sell—the team could again overachieve, even without a natural playmaker to rely on offensively.
5) The Buckeyes will return to historic St. John Arena for a game vs. Cleveland State Nov. 23.
The last time that the men’s basketball team played in St. John Arena was in 2010. That is a shame, and honestly, it is approaching a crime perpetrated by the OSU basketball program and athletic department against the fans.
Yes, St. John is a bit of an outdated barn, but it is our outdated barn. There is something some special (and sweaty) about playing a game in the home of Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Gary Bradds, Dennis Hopson, Jimmy Jackson, Katie Smith, and all of the other greats in Ohio State basketball history.
Now, I understand why OSU moved basketball games to the Schott in 1999, but there is no reason that the Buckeyes shouldn’t play at least one game—or even a round-robin with other Ohio teams—in St. John Arena every year.
Make it happen, Holtmann!