The 2019-20 Ohio State mens basketball team was probably one of the most confusing teams the Buckeyes have fielded in maybe any sport in quite some time. At certain points in the year, like when they were beating up on No. 6 Kentucky and No. 10 Villanova, it looked as though Chris Holtmann’s group was Final Four worthy. At other times, like the entire month of January, it looked like Ohio State didn't even deserve to make the field of 64.
The Buckeyes ultimately finished 21-10 on the season. They picked up six wins against ranked opponents — with four of those victories against teams ranked in the Top 10 — and were 6-4 overall against teams in the AP Top 25. As previously mentioned, January was when things really went south, as Ohio State went an abysmal 2-5 to start the new calendar year. However, they bounced back once the month of terrors finally concluded, winning eight of their last 11 games to close out the regular season.
All of this is to say that while Holtmann will look to build off of the successes of last year and look to improve on some of the shortcomings, he will have to do so with a roster that features a significant amount of turnover. As you are all likely well aware of by now, the Ohio State roster has seen somewhat of a mass exodus this offseason through graduation, transfers, and a big NBA Draft declaration.
Gone is leading scorer Kaleb Wesson, who will be hoping to be selected in Wednesday night’s NBA Draft. So too is his brother, Andre Wesson, who exhausted his eligibility with last year being his senior season. Then comes the transfers, with guards D.J. Carton and Luther Muhammad as well as forward Alonzo Gaffney all taking their talents elsewhere.
So just how significant are these losses to this year’s roster? Well, as a team, Ohio State averaged 72.1 points per game last season. These five guys combined for 42.4 points per game in 2019-20 — nearly 60% of the offense a year ago. The most significant of these losses are the Wesson brothers, who combined for 23.2 points per game as a duo. Carton also poured in 10.4 points per game off the bench, but had left the team to focus on mental health issues at the end of January.
What about some of the other important offensive statistics, like assists and rebounds? As a team, the Buckeyes averaged 13.3 assists and 36.8 boards per game a year ago. These five guys combined for 8.2 assists per game (62%) and 19.7 rebounds (54%). The lion’s share of those assists were Carton and the Wesson bros’ 6.8 dimes per contest as a trio, while Kaleb Wesson led the way with his 9.3 rebounds per game.
In terms of losses on the defensive side of the court, the metrics are a bit harder to gauge, but they will certainly feel the losses of both Kaleb Wesson and Muhammad. Kaleb Wesson was the team’s biggest body under the rim, and while it got him in foul trouble all too often, he led the team with a defensive win share of 2.2 as he ate up space in the paint. Muhammad was perhaps the teams best defensive guard, leading the team in defensive box plus/minus at 4.1 and finishing second on the Buckeyes with 30 steals on the year.
So what does this all mean for the 2020-21 campaign? Well, now that we know where the most significant losses are coming from, we can begin to project where Ohio State will be able to make up some of that production.
To win basketball games, you obviously have to score points, and with nearly 60% of the scoring from last year now gone, including leading scorer Kaleb Wesson’s 14 points per game, Ohio State will have to look to a guy like Duane Washington Jr. to step up his play.
Washington Jr. was the second-leading scorer on the Buckeyes a year ago, averaging 11.5 points per game despite only starting in 15 of his 28 games played. The sharpshooter’s biggest issue as a sophomore was his consistency, shooting nearly 40% from beyond the arc on the season but experiencing stretches of extreme hot and extreme cold. There has been a ton of talk this offseason about Washington Jr. working hard to improve heading into his junior year, but Ohio State will have to see it on the court if they want to be successful.
Where else will the Buckeyes look for offense? Of course, they expect to see more solid numbers from guys like C.J. Walker and Kyle Young. Walker was a solid contributor shooting the rock in his first season in Columbus, averaging 8.7 points per game with a mean midrange jumper, while Young led the team with 61.3% true shooting percentage. However, they can also look to some of their new additions, especially transfers Seth Towns and Justice Sueing.
Towns has missed the past two seasons with a knee injury, and his health to begin the season remains an unknown, but the forward is an absolute force when healthy. Earning Ivy League Player of the Year as a sophomore at Harvard, the 6-foot-8 big man averaged a team-high 16 points per game while shooting an impressive 44% from deep. Sueing, a transfer from California, was equally as productive at his previous destination. The forward averaged a team-high 14.3 points per game for the Golden Bears in the 2018-19 season before sitting out at Ohio State last year due to transfer rules.
Rebounding should not be a problem for this Buckeyes unit, as the roster features a plethora of capable glass eaters. The team still features Young and E.J. Liddell, who were second and fourth in total rebounds for OSU last season, respectively. The aforementioned Towns averaged 5.7 boards per game in his last season at Harvard, while the 6-foot-7 Sueing averaged six rebounds per game at Cal. The team will also have 6-foot-8 freshman forward Zed Key, who led Long Island Lutheran HS with 8.7 boards per game as a senior.
The assist numbers will be a bit more tricky, as the team has some question marks in terms of depth at the guard spots. Walker led the Buckeyes a year ago with 3.5 apples per game, but Carton and the Wesson brothers rounded out the top four dimers. Holtmann is hoping to have Musa Jallow back for his redshirt junior season after missing all of last year with an ankle injury, but it will likely be some of the fresh faces contributing in this category.
For starters, Ohio State is thrilled that Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos has been granted immediate eligibility, as the guard led the Bison last season with his 3.9 assists per game while also being the team’s leading scorer, averaging 11.5 points. The Buckeyes will also look to get some additional production in the backcourt from Washington Jr. in this area, finishing fifth on the team in assists a year ago. Holtmann will hope to see big things from his freshmen guards as well, including reclassified four-star PG Meechie Johnson (who will be eligible to join the team in January) and four-star SG Eugene Brown III.
There shouldn't be much concern on the defensive side of things, as Chris Holtmann’s tenure at Ohio State has been highlighted by his teams’ commitment to locking down the opposition. Last year’s Buckeyes were in the top 25 in both points per game allowed and opposing shooting percentage, and the expectation is that emphasis on defense will continue in year four of Holtmann in Columbus.
Some key defensive-minded guys to keep an on eye this year are Walker, Liddell and Young. Walker led the team in steals last season with 40, while Liddell and Young were hosting a block party with 29 and 13 rejections, respectively — second and third on the team behind Kaleb Wesson. Sueing and Towns are no slouches on the defensive end either, with Sueing leading Cal with 1.7 steals per game and Towns tied for second in defensive win share in his last season at Harvard.
Of course, it’s tough to really know what you’re going to get from some of the transfers and freshmen, but Ohio State’s roster looks really good on paper to begin the year. Sure they lost a ton of production from last season, but Holtmann has been able to put together a really solid group of guys this offseason for what is hopefully a successful 2020-21 campaign.