The 2019-2020 Ohio State basketball season brought several things to light. Kaleb Wesson became an assassin from three. CJ Walker is becoming one of the top floor generals in the country. Chris Holtmann can wear the heck out of a salmon suit. And the Buckeyes really need to find a way to avoid playing any basketball games in January.
But just as noteworthy was the realization that Kyle Young is the engine under the hood of the Ohio State men’s basketball team. If he was absent, so too was the excitement, explosiveness, and efficiency that placed Ohio State within the top 20 in the country in both offensive (13th) and defensive (19th) efficiency ratings, according to KenPom.
He rarely took a shot that was more than four feet from the basket, but when he went up with it, odds are that he was converting. Young had a 62.8% field goal percentage over the past two seasons, which was tops in the Big Ten conference over that span (minimum 100 attempts).
Young may have had the highest motor on the defensive end too (we will humbly accept E.J. Liddell as a candidate too), as he would routinely guard quicker, more athletic opponents on the wing while Wesson held down the paint. Offensive rebounds were few and far between for opposing teams while Young was on the floor, as he located the ball and timed his jumps perfectly to yank down boards and prevent second-chance opportunities.
Young enters his final campaign hoping to start and finish the year while avoiding any major injuries, which have unfortunately bitten him throughout his first three years in Columbus. Last year, Young dealt with leg issues as well as undergoing an emergency appendectomy in December, which caused him to miss two games.
While a completely healthy and motivated Young would be instrumental for the Buckeyes this upcoming year, the absence of Wesson may make things a bit more difficult for the incoming senior. It was often overlooked, but Young served as a fantastic complement to Wesson, especially once Wesson improved his outside shot.
Usually a player like Young, who is by trade a forward/center, would need to guard the opposing team’s big man. But the Buckeyes possessed an even bigger forward in Wesson, who often took that assignment. Young, matched with someone closer to his own size at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, could go to work in the paint with the brute strength and finesse that helped him become the most efficient scorer in the Big Ten conference over the past two years. If an opposing defense chose to double team him, that could potentially leave Wesson open on the perimeter, who shot 42.5% from beyond the arc. And 42.5% isn’t just good for a big man, that is good for anyone. Heck, that is elite.
Because of Wesson’s presence both inside and out, Young got opportunities down low against a single defender that he otherwise may not have gotten. And because of Young’s prowess in the paint, Wesson was able to hang out on the perimeter, which pulled defenders outside to him and, you guessed it, opened things up for Young down low. This, in a nutshell, is why the Buckeyes ran such an efficient offense last season.
Here is an example against Purdue where this exact situation happened, allowing Young to sneak in for an easy dunk. Wesson slides to the top to set a screen for Walker, who then dribbles around the defender to his left. Purdue’s Matt Haarms and Isaiah Thompson don’t communicate on the switch, which then leaves Wesson open for three and Young open down low. Purdue’s Evan Budreaux then has to make the decision: back up and prevent Young from getting the easy two, or step out and prevent Wesson’s shot? He chose the latter, which allowed Young to catch the pass from Walker and slam it home.
And here against Minnesota, Wesson tries to back down his defender while the Gophers’ Daniel Oturu is supposed to be guarding Young. Oturu, who apparently has absolutely no faith in his teammate to stop Wesson, abandons Young the second Wesson takes a dribble. Wesson was waiting for it, and immediately dished to an uncovered Young for an easy basket.
When Young was injured, teams could afford to double team Wesson, who was forced to kick it out to someone on the perimeter to take a sometimes ill-advised three-point attempt. It was also one less rebounder for an Ohio State team that already was at a size disadvantage most nights.
Kyle Young and Kaleb Wesson in the game = great
Kyle Young or Kaleb Wesson in the game = slight concern
Neither Kyle Young nor Kaleb Wesson in the game = headache will soon ensue
To see exactly how Young’s defensive assignments may change this year with no Wesson, I’ll break down the defensive assignments last year versus Iowa with Wesson, and what it will look like this year, sans Wesson.
Kaleb Wesson (6-foot-9, 260 pounds) - Luka Garza (6-foot-11, 260 pounds)
Kyle Young (6-foot-8, 225 pounds) - Ryan Kriener (6-foot-10, 255 pounds)
Andre Wesson (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) - Joe Wieskamp (6-foot-6, 210 pounds)
CJ Walker (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) - Joe Toussaint (6-foot-0, 185 pounds)
Luther Muhammad (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) - Connor McCaffery (6-foot-5, 205 pounds)
Kyle Young (6-foot-8, 225 pounds) - Luka Garza (6-foot-11, 260 pounds)
CJ Walker (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) - Jordan Bohannon (6-foot-1, 185 pounds)
Seth Towns (6-foot-8, 215 pounds) - Joe Wieskamp (6-foot-6, 210 pounds)
Duane Washington Jr. (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) - CJ Fredrick (6-foot-3, 195 pounds)
E.J. Liddell (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) - Connor McCaffery (6-foot-5, 205 pounds)
As you can see, much more will be asked of Young this season on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Not only will he be tasked with replacing some of Wesson’s offense, he also will bear the burden of drawing the defensive assignment of the largest player on the opposing team. At 6-foot-8, Young is tall, but probably a bit undersized for a “traditional” center. Guys like Garza, Wisconsin’s Micah Potter, and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn will all have height on him, but Young is one of the most experienced and polished players in the conference. He should be able to hold his own against the giants of the B1G, assuming he stays healthy.
With no Wesson in the picture, “KY” may not lead the conference in shooting percentage again. He will see his fair share of double teams, and he won’t have a 6-foot-9, 260 pound sniper sitting on the 3-point line anymore for assistance. However, with both Wesson brothers gone, expect to see Young take more shots per game, as he averaged just under five shots per game last year. This should lead to a higher scoring and rebounding output, as he will inevitably grab half of his own misses and put them back up. Because that is what Kyle Young does.
Kyle Young will take more shots this season, but at a lower efficiency than we are accustomed to seeing as he draws more double teams and is guarded by larger defenders. His scoring and rebounding outputs should increase, but mark all of this with an asterisk due to injury concerns. An already injury-prone Young will be asked to do more than he ever has in a Buckeye uniform. Can those banged up legs grind out one more season?
Stats (Projected): 9.5 PPG, 6.7 REB, 1.0 AST, 68% FT, 26.6 MINS