On Sunday afternoon, rising junior Luther Muhammad announced that he was leaving Ohio State. For a team that had already watched not one, but two players leave via transfer since the season was cut short, this was a bit concerning.
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I want to start by thanking the coaches, teammates, fans, and everyone that played a part in my experience at THE Ohio State University, I was always taught to stay true to myself and follow my heart.. wherever it may lead me. With that being said, after close consideration with my loved ones, I have decided to enter the transfer portal. OSU fufilled my dream of playing next level basketball, and for that, the Buckeye Nation forever hold a special place in my heart. Again, special thank you to Coach Holtmann, and all of the coaches who have worked with me on my development and to make this school my home over the past two years. I’m looking forward to my next chapter, and seeing what the rest of my journey has in store for me. ❤️
In all likelihood, the reasons for their departures were all unique. D.J. Carton took a leave of absence to deal with mental health issues mid-season, and ultimately decided he needed a change of scenery to start fresh, and chose to transfer. I don’t think anyone blames him, and we all hope he finds success wherever he ends up.
Alonzo Gaffney, who was used sparingly once Ohio State got into Big Ten play, would have been blocked on the depth chart next season by more than a couple guys. Justice Sueing, Seth Towns, Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell, Musa Jallow, and even Justin Ahrens all seemed more likely to get playing time than him next season. Gaffney announced that he was leaving Ohio State and that he would pursue professional opportunities, most likely overseas. It’s a bit surprising that he’s going pro, but not surprising that he chose to leave Columbus.
And that brings us to Muhammad. When news broke that he, too, was leaving, Ohio State fans’ collective heads all went like this:
Muhammad played in a combined 64 games between his freshman and sophomore years, 56 of them as a starter. With very little guard depth on the team next season, Muhammad had a path to end up as a potential four-year starter at Ohio State, something you don’t see all that often in college.
While he isn’t someone who opposing teams scout as a huge offensive threat, he had his moments, including a season-high 22 points in Ohio State’s win over No. 7 Maryland on February 23. What he consistently brought to the table, though, was defense. He did a superb job guarding Anthony Cowan Jr. and Zavier Simpson in home wins over Maryland and Michigan late in the season. He may be the best on-ball defender to play for Ohio State since Aaron Craft. When you’re that skilled on the defensive end, offensive contributions are more of a cherry on top, and Luther chipped in just enough offense to warrant keeping him in the starting lineup.
Why then, would he want to leave? Is there something going on with the program that’s scaring kids away? Is Ohio State in trouble next season in the guard department? All of these questions were posed to me on Sunday, but my head was spinning and I had no answers.
Now, we can dive into it.
Why would Luther Muhammad choose to leave such a good situation?
At first, I had no idea. He was set to start the next two years at Ohio State. He was one of the best defenders in the Big Ten. His stock could only go up, and he will only get better. He was going to have plenty of time on the floor to show that off. We were all scratching our heads. But then this tweet popped up:
A source told @Bucknuts247 that Luther Muhammad is looking for an opportunity to be more of a scorer and doesn’t believe he will have that chance at Ohio State with some of the options the #Buckeyes have returning next year.— Patrick Murphy (@_Pat_Murphy) April 5, 2020
I’m not here to tear anyone down, but I also won’t shy away from the stats. Muhammad was a 38% shooter from the floor last year, and 34% from 3-point range. He averaged seven points per game. Those numbers aren’t horrible, but you also don’t look at them and think, “Yeah, this guy could drop 18-20 per night if he was allowed to take more shots.”
Muhammad’s bread and butter is his defense. If he’s limiting the opposing team’s star guard to less than 10 points in a game, and he himself is scoring eight points that game, that’s a really good game! But if Muhammad is going elsewhere because he wants to be “the guy” on a team, then maybe Ohio State isn’t a great fit for him after all. Because it just wasn’t in the cards (or the stats).
All of this is simply guessing, too. Maybe he just wanted to be closer to home during this whole COVID-19 outbreak. That is for him to decide and for us not to question.
Is Chris Holtmann scaring these guys away?
One of the first texts I got when the Muhammad news broke read, verbatim, “What is wrong with Holtmann?”
To be fair, I don’t think anything is wrong with Chris Holtmann. For some reason, I don’t think the guy who buys students Cane’s for lunch every fall, wore a Buckeye themed helmet into the locker room following their big win over North Carolina, or called out anyone questioning Carton’s true motives for taking his leave of absence, is scaring kids away. He’s shown time and time again that he’ll stand before the media and the fans (both his own and of his opponents) and defend his players until his dying days.
Could Holtmann have suggested to Muhammad that he should transfer? That it just wasn’t a great fit? Maybe, but I really doubt it. If that was the case, why wouldn’t he have said it earlier? As previously stated, these transfers all seem to be motivated by unique reasons. I don’t see a trend between them, nor have we seen any evidence that there’s a “culture” issue driving players away.
Does Ohio State have enough guards on the roster to compete next season?
With Muhammad’s transfer, Ohio State currently has two true guards available to play next season. CJ Walker will slot in at point guard, and he’ll be playing 40 minutes per night, basically. Duane Washington Jr. will start as the off-guard, and he will also be asked to play damn near every minute.
Eugene Brown, a four-star combo guard from Conyers, GA, will join the team in the fall too. Brown is listed as a shooting guard on some sites, and a small forward on others. Safe to say he will not be asked to handle the ball a ton, but he may be leaned on heavily early in the season being the final guard (kind of) available for Ohio State. The way you saw Holtmann slowly bring the likes of Gaffney and Ibrahima Diallo along last season might not be possible for Brown next year.
Jimmy Sotos, a transfer guard from Bucknell, will be joining the Buckeyes in the fall as well, as he announced on Monday. Sotos averaged 11.5 points for the Bison last season, but he will not be eligible to play until the 2021-2022 season.
Essentially, Walker and Washington Jr. just became the two most important players on the team. If one or both of them are injured/in foul trouble, there is not another proven guard on this roster that Chris Holtmann can lean on. Look for both of them to play 35-40 minutes per game next season, and an injury to either would further pinch Ohio State’s flexibility on both ends of the floor.
Stay strong, friends. We’ll get sports back soon enough, even if the college basketball season was washed. Hopefully this will cheer you up: