At some point later today, we should have a little more information on both Justice Sueing and Seth Towns’ individual rehab assignments, but what we know for sure is that Ohio State expects both to play at some point this month. Two weeks ago, Chris Holtmann said that both Sueing and Towns are “weeks away.” Prior to the Wisconsin game on Saturday (an Ohio State win), Holtmann specifically ruled both guys out — something he had not done for either player since Sueing re-injured himself between the Niagara and Bowling Green games last month.
While this could be speculation on my end, Holtmann ruling Towns and Sueing out for the Wisconsin game infers that both players are getting close to returning — close enough that their odds to be activated for that Wisconsin game were greater than zero. Towns has been targeting a December-ish return since he had back surgery in September. Sueing’s absence was considered indefinite originally, but Holtmann’s “weeks away” comment inferred that he’d be back sometime this month, hopefully.
It’s unlikely that Towns starts at any point this season. Once healthy, he’ll be one of Ohio State’s go-to bench scorers — adding to a treasure trove of weapons that have already proven to be very useful this season. The Buckeyes’ recent wins over Duke and Towson have largely been thanks to their bench, and Towns will make that bench even deeper. On Monday, Holtmann said that Towns will be Ohio State’s “sixth or seventh” guy.
But during that same radio appearance on 97.1 FM, Holtmann referred to Sueing as “one of our starters” and “our second-best scorer.” That means that once he’s healthy, Sueing will not be used off the bench a la Kyle Young. Perhaps initially while his minutes are being ticked back up he will, but it will not be long until Sueing is back in the starting lineup.
With that said, who gets bumped out? Holtmann mixed a few different lineups early on, but for the last several games it’s been Jamari Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Justin Ahrens, E.J. Liddell, and Zed Key. Clearly, someone is getting bumped to a reserve role once Sueing returns.
Below, I outlined the two most-likely scenarios for when Sueing returns. I also included a third option that almost certainly won’t happen, but we might as well include it — just in case.
Ahrens out, Sueing in
From a traditional standpoint, this makes the most sense. Sueing takes Ahrens’ spot, the guards stay the same, and Key continues to anchor everything down low. A career 31% three-point shooter, Sueing is nowhere close to the same threat Ahrens is from outside (42% 3PT), but he can score in more ways than his fellow left-handed teammate.
Sueing is a passable outside shooter, but more importantly he’s great at driving to the basket and then picking where to pull up from that 6-10-foot range versus where to attack all the way to the rim (54% shooter from two-point range). He’s also a reliable free throw shooter and an above-average rebounder (5.5 rebounds per game last season). Sueing is also a better all-around defender than Ahrens, even taking into consideration the huge strides the latter has made this season on defense.
Overall, Sueing just brings more to the table than Ahrens does. That’s not a knock on Justin — he is still a solid player — but them’s the facts.
Branham out, Sueing in
Personally, this is what I believe would be the best — and most interesting — switch. Sueing is not a traditional guard (on or off-ball) at 6-foot-7, but we saw last season that Holtmann trusts him to at least get the ball past half court without incident. That goofy behind the back turnover against Michigan lingers in a lot of folks’ minds, but for the most part he was pretty passable.
Also: what has Malaki Branham done so far this season that Sueing can’t do? Branham is going to be a star, but right now he’s young and still figuring things out. In 21.8 minutes per game as a starter, he’s scoring 6.3 PPG to go along with 3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.8 turnovers per night. He’s shooting 38.8% overall and 33% from three-point land. None of these stats are great, and some are subjectively bad. Again, I think Branham is going to be a star very soon, — probably an NBA draftee eventually.
But if the position listed on the roster next to a guy’s name is why you think Branham needs to stay in the lineup, think again. Sueing can do everything Branham has so far, but much more efficiently. A lineup of Wheeler, Sueing, Ahrens, Liddell, and Key has some serious thump to it, and after a 2-0 start in B1G play, the Buckeyes should slam their foot on the gas pedal and try to keep that streak alive.
Just play your best five guys!
Sueing comes off the bench
I had to include this because there’s an off-chance it happens, I suppose. Kyle Young has been super efficient off the bench so far, and it’s looking like that’s where he’ll stay for the duration of this season. While having your sixth through eighth guys in the rotation be Sueing, Young, and Towns would be menacing for opposing teams, holding all three back just seems silly.
Both Branham and Ahrens have some very obvious flaws in their game still, and so does Key. Ohio State is one of the deepest teams in the nation, but keeping Sueing on the bench and starting Ahrens and Branham over him seems silly. If Holtmann truly thinks Sueing is his second-best scorer, he needs to be in that starting lineup.
But hey, Young is coming off the bench, and Holtmann has the utmost confidence in both Branham and Ahrens. So who knows!