Well, Ohio State basketball has played a game and they won. Nothing else happened. At all. I promise. They just beat Akron.
Okay, maybe there are a few things they need to work out.
First of all, let’s talk about what we did last week. In the latest of edition of the basketball You’re Nuts, we discussed how many wins the Buckeyes were going to record this upcoming season between the regular season, conference tournament and the big dance.
Connor chose 26 wins, Justin chose 28, and for our more optimistic and pessimistic fans (or realists as they like to refer to themselves), we put in the option for more than 28 wins and less than 26 wins. For reference, the most wins Chris Holtmann has had is 25, which was his first season in 2017-18. There does need to be context added to that, as 2019-20 was cut short with no postseason at all due to COVID-19 and the Buckeyes had to cancel a couple games last season due to COVID-19.
After the votes were tallied (electronically of course — we can’t count), fewer than 26 won with 43 percent of the votes. This isn’t too surprising, because anything more than 25 would be the most in Holtmann’s tenure, but what can we say? We at Land-Grant Holy Land and Bucketheads are an optimistic bunch.
Connor’s option of 26 wins finished second with 24 percent of the votes, and a little surprisingly, more than 28 was third with 22 percent of the votes. Justin’s option of exactly 28 finished last with a measly 11 percent of the votes. A sad way for Justin’s losing streak to go out.
So it seems as if the winning streak for Justin is over. Remember when it looked like Justin might lose to ‘other’? At least that little scare is over. Since Connor also did not win, the score stays at 13-9 while the other option is at four. Also since we are 27 weeks, it means we have been doing this for over half a year. Time flies.
After 27 weeks:
(There has been one tie)
In honor of the Buckeyes win (and only that), we are discussing what the Buckeyes’ biggest area of concern is moving into the Niagara game. The Buckeyes defeated Akron to start the season, but the showed some clear signs of weakness and concern.
So lets dive in folks.
Today’s Question: What is Ohio State’s biggest area of concern heading into the Niagara game?
Connor: Finding a second solid scorer behind E.J. Liddell
Sitting in the Schott on Tuesday night watching Ohio State struggle to get something going against Akron late in the game, I could’ve sworn I’d watched this movie before. Liddell was having himself a hell of a game, and would finish with 25 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes of play. It was his first double-double of the season and the fifth of his career. But behind him, the Buckeyes were searching for someone to step up and be their ace in the hole when Liddell was unavailable.
As fate would have it, the game came down to a must-score possession where Liddell was off the court. Having just fouled out on the last possession (Ali Ali’s four-point play), Chris Holtmann needed to draw something up to score without his star player, or become the first OSU head coach in nearly 20 years to lose the first game of the season.
Justin Ahrens inbounded the ball to Malaki Branham at the top of the key with 3.2 seconds left, who immediately dumped it down to Zed Key below the basket. Key went straight up and scored over the defender with his right hand, giving Ohio State a one-point lead and the victory. Key finished with 14 points, which tied his career-high.
But for the most part, Ohio State struggled without Liddell on the floor. Aside from Liddell, Ohio State shot 16-of-41 (39%) from the floor, and was 3-of-10 from three-point range. Liddell grabbed about one third of OSU’s rebounds (11 of 38), and led the team in assists with three (tied with Branham and Ahrens). He quite literally did it all on Tuesday night, and the Buckeyes did not look great when he was off the floor.
During the 2018-2019 season, Ohio State relied heavily on their star center Kaleb Wesson. When he was off the floor, the Buckeyes struggled in a big way. When he was suspended towards the end of the season, his team stumbled the whole way and nearly missed the NCAA Tournament. That is what Chris Holtmann wants to avoid this season — so someone else needs to step up.
Could it be Justice Sueing? The fifth-year senior averaged 10.7 points per game last season, but Tuesday night he looked awful, scoring two points on 1-of-7 shooting, including multiple air balls. He is recovering from a “lower leg” injury, so we have not seen him at full strength yet. But how will that look?
What about Zed Key? He looks great on Tuesday, hitting seven of his 11 shots and looking pretty unstoppable when he was on the floor. But is that more because of the level of competition he was facing, or will this be the new norm?
How about Malaki Branham? He isn’t a starter (for now) but he looked quite comfortable against Akron, logging 24 minutes in his first collegiate game and making the crucial pass to Key on that final play that won the game. He scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting — not ideal — but they were mostly high percentage looks rather than rushed jump shots.
Whoever it is, Ohio State needs one or two guys to settle in as a reliable secondary (and third) scoring option when Liddell can’t go. We’ve seen what happens when this team puts all their eggs in one basket (with Wesson) and they can’t go back to that. Keep an eye on the guys I mentioned above tonight versus Niagara, because any three of them could become major scoring options for this team.
Justin: Integrating in the transfers
I have been banging this drum for a while, and after the Buckeyes first game, I am going to keep banging it. The integration of the transfers into the program are the biggest thing the Buckeyes need to figure out in my opinion.
In the first game, the three transfers did not provide much in the way of production. Jamari Wheeler from Penn State was the only transfer that started, playing just over 28 minutes and recording two points, both from the foul line. He finished 0-for-3 from the field. Wheeler also recorded two rebounds, one assist and one steal while turning the ball over zero times. The no turnovers is solid and he played great defense, which is to be expected, but the rest simply has to be better.
The other two fared even worse, as Indiana transfer Joey Brunk only played six minutes and recorded four points and Louisiana’s Cedric Russell only played four minutes, recording no shots and no points. Brunk did play well when he was on the floor, but EJ Liddell and Zed Key were playing great games at the four and the five, so Brunk did not quite fit the game plan for the night. But he will in the future.
This also kind of relates to Connor’s question of who can step up be the second scorer behind EJ Liddell? Last season at Louisiana, Russell averaged 17 points per game last season on 40 percent shooting from behind the three-point line while shooting almost seven three’s a game. That is a pretty unreal rate and efficiency.
It is clear that he isn’t ready to play huge minutes yet and be a foundational piece in the rotation, hence him only playing four minutes, but once he gets acclimated, Russell can be a very productive member of the team. Let’s just hope he gets to that point.
Wheeler’s development is also huge. He isn’t making as big of a jump as Russell from the Sun Belt, and Brunk who missed all of last season with a back injury. Wheeler spent three seasons as the starting point guard for Penn State, so he is used to the speed in the conference and the level of play. Everyone knows he isn’t a scorer, but two rebounds and one assist is much less than the expectation for him. He needs to be more of an 8-5-5 guy for the Buckeyes while being the defensive stalwart he has always been.
What is the biggest area of concern heading into the Niagara game?
This poll is closed
Integrating the transfers (Justin)
Finding dependable second and third scorers behind Liddell (Connor)
Something else you guys didn’t mention