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Ten top notes to prepare for Ohio State men’s basketball

Over the past few weeks, Chris Holtmann has answered questions on big expectations, potential lineups, and injury updates.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Media Day Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

We may be getting into the meat of the Ohio State Football season, but believe it or not, Buckeye basketball is right around the corner! The team tips off against Cincinnati at home on Nov. 6, and there’s a lot to talk about as this Ohio State team comes together to prepare for another run at a Big Ten Conference championship.

On Sept. 24, Ohio State held their own media day where head coach Chris Holtmann took questions from the media, and Big Ten Media Day was held in Chicago on Oct. 2. At both of these press events, the Ohio State head coach touched on dozens of topics, including the growth of the sophomore class, Kaleb Wesson’s progress to become a lean, mean, scoring machine, and which teams in the conference stand out to him the most.

These are the 10 most important things that I drew from Holtmann’s press conferences.

Justin Ahrens, E.J. Liddell, and Musa Jallow are still on the mend

At Ohio State’s media day, Holtmann reported that Ahrens (back), Liddell (leg), and Jallow (leg) would not be ready to practice with the team when practice officially began. He said that both Ahrens and Liddell should be, “Good to go for preseason stuff,” but that there was no timetable for Jallow’s return.

At Big Ten Media Day, Holtmann updated the status of Ahrens and Liddell, saying that those two were now practicing with “limited contact,” while Jallow is still not quite there yet.

Chris Holtmann is hip with the lingo

As his press conference in Chicago began, Holtmann told Big Ten Conference Associate Director of Business Operations Satvik Patel (who was opening the conference for Holtmann), “Our players would say you’ve got some real drip to your game today,” which was a reference to Patel’s black and gold jacket he wore for the press conference.

Holtmann could not care less about your preseason rankings

In different preseason polls, the Buckeyes have been ranked as high as fifth in the nation. When asked about how much he pays attention to these rankings, he told reporters at Ohio State’s media day that he, “Doesn’t put any stock into them. We’ll get what we earn”, but that he was happy that a few of his players (Andre Wesson and Kaleb Wesson) were on the cover of a few magazines, due to Ohio State’s high ranking in their publications.

Kaleb Wesson is in the best shape of his life

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Media Day
Kaleb Wesson at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, he might not be in the best shape of his life, but definitely the best shape that he’s been in since he got to Ohio State. Strength Coach Quadrian Banks said Kaleb has lost roughly 30 pounds since last season ended, and is doing a great job maintaining a healthy weight without compromising his strength.

At Ohio State’s media day, Holtmann praised Kaleb’s discipline last season that led into this offseason, saying, “He stayed in much better shape last season all the way to the end.”

He also said that many nights after games, he would find Wesson boxing with Banks in the weight room. A slimmed-down, quicker Kaleb would benefit Ohio State in many ways this season, namely in transition-defense against teams who play at a quicker pace.

Could Alonzo Gaffney be the next Keita Bates-Diop?

Am I jumping the gun on this one? Absolutely, and I’m mostly being facetious with this comparison. But the measurables and skill set draw a very close comparison to KBD when he first stepped foot on campus.

They are both 6-foot-9 forwards who can work the post and shoot from deep range. KBD was an above average shot-blocker in college, and Gaffney was an elite shot-blocker in high school.

Even their weaknesses line up as well. Bates-Diop was never praised as a guy with elite quickness, and occasionally struggled to defend smaller, quicker wings and combo guards that he switched onto. Based on how tall and lanky Gaffney is right now (Ohio State lists him at 198 pounds), I could also see him struggling to defend bigger, beefier wings as well as those quicker combo guards.

At Ohio State’s media day, Holtmann said, “Zo moves really well for his size, he really does.”

He also added that while the talent is obviously there, getting Gaffney to give a full effort consistently is going to be the next step for him. Gaffney tends to be the overlooked player in this freshman class behind DJ Carton and E.J. Liddell, but he was a top-50 recruit when he committed to Ohio State for a reason. He may not end up being the next Bates-Diop, but he is going to be a really great player.

Teams to watch: Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue

While he didn’t go into much detail here, Chris Holtmann mentioned Maryland, Michigan State, and Purdue as three teams that have proven to be tough opponents and consistently are near the top of the conference.

Michigan State is coming off of a Final Four run and are returning most of that squad, including Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston. Purdue was defeated in the Elite 8 by Virginia, and then lost Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline to the NBA Draft and graudation, but will roll out Matt Haarms alongside a group of young guards.

Maryland lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to a very talented LSU team, but will return NBA draft prospect Jalen Smith, as well as PG Anthony Cowan Jr. for what feels like his 8th year of college.

E.J. Liddell is going to be very involved this season

There was quite a bit of E.J. Liddell talk at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, which is unsurprising considering that Liddell is from Belleville, Illinois, about four hours south of Chicago.

Holtmann said that the staff loves Liddell’s versatility given his size, and said that his skillset is “unique” for someone as tall as he is. Holtmann said that Liddell could be a mismatch on “both ends of the floor” as the season goes on, and even went so far as to compare him to Lamar Stevens of Penn State, whom he could possibly match up with when the Buckeyes face Penn State this season.

It sounds like the coaching staff is very excited to have Liddell, so expect to see him log quite a few minutes early on in the season.

The lineup situation is fluid

It is probably safe to slot Kaleb Wesson in for a starting spot. I think it’s also safe to lock Andre Wesson into the starting five as well. After that? Go fish!

Naturally, you’d expect to see two guards as well as another wing. Luther Muhammad is at his best when playing off the ball, so we’ll probably see DJ Carton or CJ Walker handling the ball, but it’s unlikely that both will start.

When asked about this specific decision at Ohio State’s Media Day, Holtmann said, “Mature talent wins games at the highest level of college basketball, and that doesn’t necessarily mean age.”

So, will he hand the keys over to Carton and have Walker come off the bench? We probably won’t know until Oct. 30 when the Buckeyes scrimmage Cedarville at the Schott. Personally, I think it will shake out to be something like this:

G- CJ Walker
G- Luther Muhammad
F- Andre Wesson
F- E.J. Liddell
F- Kaleb Wesson

The growth and improvement of sophomores will be crucial

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Purdue
Luther Muhammad and Justin Ahrens attempt to box out Purdue’s Matt Haarms
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

The most talked about topic wasn’t Kaleb Wesson; it wasn’t the No. 1 Big Ten recruiting class coming in; and it wasn’t what color suit Chris Holtmann would wear for this year’s game in St. John Arena.

It was how crucial it will be for Justin Ahrens, Duane Washington Jr., and Luther Muhammad to take that next step and become more consistent and efficient scorers this season.

“We saw Duane grow a little bit as the season progressed,” Holtmann said. “Luther kind of hit a wall and struggled a little bit, but we really need all three of them to be more efficient this season.”

All three showed individual flashes of excellence and the capability to take over a game last season, but each struggled with consistency and efficiency.

Last season got frustrating at times for coaches

Ohio State started last season 13-1, including wins over Cincinnati and UCLA. Their stock was rising, and then it sunk like a rock. Five straight losses, including one to Rutgers on the road. A home loss to a feisty Illinois team soon followed.

Ohio State was spiraling downward due to their inability to work the ball inside and too many turnovers. Things improved down the stretch, and the Buckeyes were even able to pick up a big win in the NCAA Tournament over Iowa State.

But at Big Ten Media Day, Holtmann admitted that coaching a very young team last season, “Really beat them up.”

He went on to say that there were some nights where all he could think was, “I really hope these tough nights help us next year.”

This season, the Buckeyes return more experience and more talent, so we will see if some of those tough nights last season benefit the Buckeyes going forward.