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Who starts for Ohio State men’s basketball this season?

Despite an offseason filled with roster turnover, Buckeye fans should expect familiar faces to start the first game of the year on Nov. 11.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

There was a period of time earlier this year when it was difficult for some to keep up with who was still an Ohio State basketball player. After multiple transfers in, multiple transfers out, one NBA draft entry, and three seniors graduating, the roster has finally settled. The Buckeyes will enter the 2020-2021 season with 13 players eligible. The 14th, Jimmy Sotos, will sit out the season after transferring to Ohio State from Bucknell.

For perhaps the first time since he arrived at Ohio State, Chris Holtmann will have an “old” team. Nine of the 13 eligible players are juniors or older, which means the Buckeyes will have experience in the starting lineup as well as off the bench.

There will also be a decision to make as to who starts at the forward positions. While this team will be short on guard depth, the opposite holds true for the wings. The Buckeyes lack a true “center” other than Ibrahima Diallo, who obviously will not be starting this season. That means Holtmann will most likely run out a lineup consisting of two guards and three forwards, who will collectively guard the opposing team’s big. But who will start, and who will be forced to come off the bench?

Seth Towns has proven to be an elite scorer both inside and out, but has not played in two years. Kyle Young may be the most efficient inside scorer in the country when healthy. E.J. Liddell was nothing short of dominant in the final few games of last season, more than proving that he should be starting. Justice Sueing, a Cal transfer who sat out the entire 2019-2020 season, played upwards of 30 minutes per game during his sophomore year out west, while also scoring over 14 points per game. However, he is coming off of an ankle surgery that kept him in a boot for much of last year. Often overlooked, Justin Ahrens has drawn a start here and there because of his ability to score in bunches in a very short time.

With all of that considered, this is how I see the lineup shaking out on Nov. 11 against Oakland:

CJ Walker (R-Sr.)

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

2019-2020 Stats:

8.7 PPG, 3.1 REB, 3.5 AST, 29 MIN

Walker was one of the most sure-handed point guards in the conference last season, with an assist to turnover ratio of right around two to one. He was a great complement to D.J. Carton, who was a more dynamic scorer than Walker, but was also more prone to turnovers. Walker played his best basketball down the stretch, scoring 11 or more points in each of Ohio State’s final six games, which is something he had done only three times throughout the team’s first 25 games. I expect C.J. Walker to play darn near 40 minutes every game this season and to shoulder more of the load offensively than he has in previous seasons.

Duane Washington Jr. (Jr.)

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

2019-2020 Stats:

11.5 PPG, 2.8 REB, 1.4 AST, 24.9 MIN

Washington broke through as a consistent scoring option for Chris Holtmann last year, starting 15 of 28 games and averaging over 11 points per game. He increased his 3-point percentage by almost 10%, but inconsistencies on the defensive end as well as questions about his effort cost him starts and minutes. There’s no question that the talent is there for him to become an all-conference type of player, but he’ll need to bring it on both ends of the floor this season if he ever wants to reach earn that honor.

Seth Towns (R-Sr.)

NCAA Basketball: Harvard at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

2017-2018 Stats:

16.0 PPG, 4.6 REB, 1.8 AST, 44.1% 3PT, 27.9 MIN

In his most recent healthy season, Towns was the Ivy League player of the year. He placed in the top ten in the conference in points per game and 3-pointers made, and had the third-best 3-point percentage in the Ivy League. His Harvard team wound up making the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years.

While Towns may very well end up being the best player on this Ohio State team, questions remain. He has not played in two seasons, will that layoff impact his game? He also played in the Ivy League, which isn’t the smallest conference in America, but is a far cry from the Big Ten. Will he still dominate at the same level while facing a much higher level of competition? I doubt it, but the Buckeyes will have enough weapons that they (hopefully) won’t need him to carry quite as heavy a load as he did for Harvard.

E.J. Liddell (So.)

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

2019-2020 Stats:

6.7 PPG, 3.8 REB, 0.5 AST, 16.6 MIN

Liddell had shown flashes of dominance throughout last season, but it all came together on March 5, against Illinois. In 27 minutes off the bench, Liddell scored 17 points and pulled down 11 rebounds on 7-9 shooting. In a game the Buckeyes needed to win to lock in their NCAA Tournament reservations, Liddell was unstoppable against the best interior defense in the Big Ten. Many fans clamored for him to get more minutes last year, and with his performance on senior day he may have solidified his place in the starting lineup for the upcoming season.

At 6-foot-6 and close to 240 pounds he isn’t a traditional center, but also doesn’t possess a good enough jump shot to draw defenders out. Instead, he uses freakish athleticism and strength to force his way into the paint (a la Jae’Sean Tate), where he shot nearly 50% as a freshman.

Kyle Young (Sr.)

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

2019-2020 Stats:

7.5 PPG, 5.8 REB, 0.9 AST, 58.5% FG, 22.9 MIN

Simply put, Ohio State is at its best when Kyle Young is on the floor. He has missed time each of the past two seasons with injuries, including a stress fracture in his leg, a high ankle sprain, and appendicitis. Young was especially valuable paired with Kaleb Wesson last season, as Young’s presence in the post allowed Wesson to migrate out to the perimeter, where he shot north of 40% from 3-point range last season.

Young has a 62.8% field goal percentage over the past two seasons, which is tops in the Big Ten for players with a minimum of 100 shot attempts. The past three seasons have shown how valuable he is to the Buckeyes, as they often struggle when he is unavailable. He may not be an NBA-caliber talent, but he is the glue guy Ohio State leans on when they need a bucket to stop a cold streak or a rebound to extend an offensive possession. If he’s healthy, he will be on the floor.

Off the bench (eligible this season):

Abel Porter (R-Sr.)

2019-2020 Stats: 5.6 PPG, 2.4 REB, 3.2 AST, 25.6 MIN

Musa Jallow (R-Jr.)

2018-2019 Stats: 2.9 PPG, 2.9 REB, 0.7 AST, 15 MIN

Eugene Brown III (Fr.)

~2020-2021 will be first collegiate season~

Justin Ahrens (Jr.)

2019-2020 Stats: 2.9 PPG, 1.3 REB, 0.2 AST, 10.1 MIN

Justice Sueing (R-Jr.)

2018-2019 Stats: 14.3 PPG, 6.0 REB, 2.0 AST, 34.5 MIN

Ibrahima Diallo (So.)

2019-2020 Stats: 1.3 PPG, 1.9 REB, 5 MIN

Zed Key (Fr.)

~2020-2021 will be first collegiate season~

Harrison Hookfin (Jr.)

2019-2020 Stats: 0.3 PPG, 0.6 REB, 2.5 MIN