One of, if not the single biggest story heading into the 2019-2020 Ohio State basketball season was the excitement surrounding the No. 1 recruiting class in the Big Ten, which resided in Columbus. For the first time since 2017, the Buckeyes boasted the most talented freshman class in the conference.
Highlighted by D.J. Carton, a four-star guard out of Bettendorf, Iowa, Ohio State brought in three four-star recruits and a three-star. Ideally, all four freshman would see the floor consistently and contribute to an uber-talented Buckeyes team. Maybe they’d even make a deep tournament run for the first time in a few years! But even if that didn’t happen, Ohio State had a blend of young and old on the 2019-2020 team. They were set up for success in the present as well as the future. Carton, E.J. Liddell, Alonzo Gaffney, and Ibrahima Diallo all had long careers as Buckeyes ahead of them.
Five months later, things are looking a bit different. The month of March all by itself seemed to last an eternity, but not in a good way. The NCAA tournament was cancelled due to the sudden global outbreak of COVID-19. An Ohio State team that caught lightning in a bottle down the stretch never got a chance to let it loose in the NCAA Tournament.
Once March Madness was cancelled, the sports world screeched to a halt. Every other major sporting event was cancelled as well, including both the Kentucky Derby and the XFL. The NBA, NHL, and MLB all suspended their seasons, with the hope of resuming once the pandemic had settled. ESPN resorted to tweeting out highlights of competitive darts and people racing marbles. These are dark times, indeed.
But leave it to THE Ohio State University to step in and create headlines during a lull. On Thursday, March 19, Carton announced he’d decided to transfer away from Ohio State. He took a leave of absence in February to address mental health issues, and ended up missing the final 11 games of the season. While not completely unexpected, the definitive announcement of his departure left Buckeye fans to wonder what could have been, had he stayed and took on a larger role.
LOVE THIS PLACE...❤️ thank you for everything buckeye nation! pic.twitter.com/buWtEkCaWO— DJ Carton (@DJCarton) March 19, 2020
Two days later on March 21, Harvard forward and 2018 Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns announced he would be transferring to Ohio State. Towns, who has missed two seasons in a row with a knee injury, has two years of eligibility remaining as a graduate transfer. A Columbus native, he averaged 16 points per game during the 2017-18 season and shot 44.1 percent from three. He was recruited and offered by both Ohio State and Butler (where Holtmann was at the time) in high school.
And the very next day (Sunday), it was reported by 247Sports’ Brian Snow that Gaffney was leaving Ohio State as well, but his destination is still to be determined.
It is more likely that Gaffney will explore professional options than transferring to another school, where he would have to sit out one season to become eligible in 2021. Gaffney averaged 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds per game last season while playing in 17 of Ohio State’s 31 games. Standing at 6-foot-9 and 200 pounds, he was thin for a college wing but possesses the frame and skill set to be a successful pro player. While his pro career may not start in the NBA, Gaffney could certainly end up on a professional team overseas somewhere in the near future.
Implications for next season
Carton’s departure leaves the Buckeyes painfully thin at the guard position heading into next season. Anything can happen between now and November, but as it stands, Ohio State only has three guards on the roster with CJ Walker, Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad. Walker represents the sole “traditional” point guard on the team following Carton’s exit.
One possible move is adding a grad transfer guard from the transfer portal, like Quinnipiac’s Rich Kelly. Ohio State doesn’t need a starting point guard, but could use someone who is capable of playing 20 minutes or so per game and can handle the rock. Last season, Kelly played in 34 games, averaging 16.7 points and 4.5 assists per game, while also shooting 39.6 percent from 3-point range and 89.1 percent from the free throw line. He would be a great complimentary piece to the roster.
Loosening the logjam at forward
Gaffney’s departure, paired with the graduation of Andre Wesson, could open up some minutes for fellow wings who jostled for minutes last season, like Justin Ahrens. Ahrens’ specialty is the 3-ball, but he needs to improve in other areas of his game, like defense and, well, 2-point shots (over 75% of Ahrens’ shots last year came from long range), in order to get more consistent minutes next season.
It could also open up some minutes for three-star freshman Zed Key, especially early in the season. Key was rated the 154th best recruit in the class of 2020, including the fourth best player in the state of New York.
With the addition of Towns, Ohio State could potentially trot out a lineup in November that features three different players who averaged 11.5 or more points per game in their most recent season. Washington averaged 11.5 per game last season, Kaleb Wesson scored 14 per game, and Seth Towns averaged 16 during his last healthy season in 2017-2018. While Wesson’s future with regards to staying or leaving is still uncertain, one thing is for sure: the Buckeyes will be a headache for most teams if they have all three of them on the court.
The Big Ten conference is a step or two above the Ivy League, and Towns has not played in two full seasons, so it is also important to temper expectations. He may not repeat his Harvard stats in Columbus, but even if Towns is only 75% of what he once was, Ohio State is still adding a legit scorer and experienced leader to the squad.