Football season is over. If you're a #Buckeyes fan who is just now going to tune into the men's basketball team, I've got you covered.— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) January 12, 2021
Here are five things to know about this year's team, if you're just catching up: https://t.co/FG7jhFuEw9
Earlier this week, after the Ohio State football team fell to Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship Game, Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch put together five things to know for Buckeye fans who haven’t seen much of the Ohio State basketball team this year. If Jardy’s CliffsNotes weren’t enough for you, earlier today Stephen Means of Cleveland.com added four more things to know about the team that is currently ranked 21st in the country with a 10-3 record after last night’s 81-71 win over Northwestern.
Which Duane shows up
One thing that both writers mentioned about this year’s Ohio State team is the streakiness of Duane Washington Jr. When Washington is good, he’s really good. When Washington’s shot is off, he is one of the most frustrating players in the country to watch. Even head coach Chris Holtmann joked that Washington is “going to send him to an early death”.
Washington currently leads Ohio State, averaging 15.7 points per game. It’s just tough to know which Washington is going to show up on any given night. In the two wins over Rutgers, the junior scored a combined 39 points and went 8-of-19 from three-point range. But there are also games like the loss to Northwestern on Dec. 26, when Washington was just 1-of-9 from the field and missed what would have been the game-winning layup. If Washington’s shot is falling and he is displaying good shot selection, the Buckeyes are a hard team to beat. If it’s not, by the end of the game you might have pulled all your hair out.
One of the more recent developments with this year’s Ohio State team has been the testing of the depth at point guard. C.J. Walker has missed the last two games after he tore ligaments in his non-shooting hand, and backup Jimmy Sotos left late in the Rutgers game with a shoulder injury, missing last night’s victory over Northwestern.
A new face at point guard
The loss of Walker and Sotos has pushed Meechie Johnson Jr. into action. The guard from Cleveland wasn’t originally scheduled to be in Columbus until next year, but he graduated early and reclassified to the class of 2020. Not only did Johnson just join the team last month, he is also coming off a torn ACL, and was only cleared for full practice participation last week. Johnson played 11 minutes last night against the Wildcats, scoring his first points as a Buckeye as he finished the game with six points.
While Johnson won’t be fully unleashed on the court until next season, at least he is able to give Ohio State some minutes in its time of need right now. Sotos should at least be back on the court relatively soon, while it’s not known how long Walker will be out. Until the Buckeyes are at full strength, Johnson can at least give Ohio State some sparks, and have fans longing for next year when Johnson should be at full strength on the court.
Plenty of tests left
The Buckeyes have already played Rutgers and Northwestern twice this year, and the schedule is only getting to get tougher going forward. Ohio State still has to play Illinois, Michigan State, and Iowa twice this year. Add in a road game against Wisconsin, as well as a home contest against Michigan, and the Buckeyes will have their work cutout for them if they want to finish at .500 this year.
That’s not a knock on Ohio State, that just tells you how tough the Big Ten is this year. Currently Ohio State is one of just five Big Ten teams whose conference record is sitting above .500. While a number of the games still left ahead for the Buckeyes probably won’t go Ohio State’s way, it will at least ready them for the high-pressure situations that they’ll see in the NCAA Tournament. No better way to get yourself ready for the big dance than by competing in the toughest basketball conference in the country.
Depth will see them through
Even though Ohio State doesn’t have a “star”, what they do have working for them is that this is the deepest team Holtmann has had since he took over in Columbus. Currently eight players are averaging over 10 minutes per game, and that’s not even including Seth Towns, Sotos, and Eugene Brown III.
The X-factor for the Buckeyes this year is going to be Towns, who is working his way back into basketball shape after recovering from knee surgeries in 2018 and 2019. Prior to his injuries, Towns averaged 16 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game in the 2017-18 season for Harvard, and was named the Ivy League Player of the Year. While we won’t see Towns playing 28 minutes per game like he did in his last season at Harvard, he could be a critical piece of the bench for the Buckeyes as the season goes on.
Even though teams want to be as healthy as possible throughout the season, the injuries Ohio State is dealing with right now are forcing players to step up when called on. Those guys who are playing more now than they might have thought they would be are gaining confidence, and everything could come together just in time for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments for the Buckeyes.