Tis the season. We’re just about a week away from Christmas, and kids around the world have their fingers crossed for a new doll, or a new bike, or hell, a new NFT… whatever the kids are in to these days.
Well I’m a big kid, so I’ve been thinking about Christmas too. I’ve been thinking about Ohio State sports and what I want for my favorite teams, specifically OSU men’s basketball. I had a few early gifts in mind for National Signing Day as well (football), but Santa Claus must have dropped a few Buckeye recruits on his way to Columbus. Rumor has it that those gifts were last spotted somewhere in the state of Texas. Moving on…
The basketball Bucks have been a pleasant surprise and are currently ranked 15th in the country. They have marquee wins over Seton Hall, Wisconsin, and best of all, Duke. E.J. Liddell is playing like an All-American, Zed has become a Key component (see what I did there?) to Ohio State’s success, and just about every role player has been good in their… role.
But this is not a top-10 team — not yet. To take the next step, I feel as if they need better play at certain positions, better luck with health and injuries, and continued development from a few of their young guys. With that in mind, I decided to put together an OSU men’s basketball Christmas wish list.
A healthy Justice Sueing
In November, it was announced that the jack of all trades and former Cal Bear would miss an extended period of time due to a core injury. We still don’t have a definite timeline for his return, but he is supposedly doing “well”. Like Sueing, the team and specifically the wings/swing guys, are doing well. But this team is better with Sueing than without, plain and simple.
The redshirt senior can score, handle the ball, find open teammates, and provide versatility on defense. His transition from Berkeley to Columbus was seamless, and coming into this season, he was projected to be Ohio State’s second or third “guy” in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. The 2021-22 team has plenty of players who can do some or most of those things, but I would argue that they do not have a player who can do it all — Liddell included.
Even OSU’s best player does have the diversified skillset that Sueing possesses. He can play as a part of any lineup, and match up against any opponent. He is a high-end glue guy, with the potential to go off for 20. Every team needs a player like that, even one currently ranked in the top-15. Get well soon, Justice.
More scoring from Malaki Branham
First and foremost, before you think I am calling the freshman out: I think he’s going to get there, and get there quickly. By “there”, I mean consistently relied upon as one of Ohio State’s go-to scorers. He is a stud. He’s also averaging six points per game, on 39 percent shooting right now. It might take some time, but you can clearly see the potential.
Not every player walks onto a college campus and starts putting up 20 like Paolo Banchero of Duke. Banchero also didn’t join a team full of proven veterans. The Buckeyes are an experienced bunch, but not because they lack high-end talent. Liddell wasn’t a one-and-done guy, but he has proven himself to be a stud. Sueing has averaged double figures throughout the entirety of his career. Justin Ahrens is a sniper, Cedric Russell is a microwave scorer, and Meechie Johnson does not shy away from big shots. Was Branham going to come in and get 15 shots per game? Absolutely not.
Branham, Ohio’s Mr. Basketball as a HS senior, just needs to let the game come to him and take advantage of his athleticism in certain matchups. If still appears that he is hesitant with his offense, but his natural scoring instinct should kick in more over time. When he does rise up for a confident jumper or the occasional drive, it’s pretty easy to see how he averaged 20+ as a senior at Akron Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s.
Chris Holtmann’s highest-rated recruit has the ability to fill it up, and I think Ohio State will need that in Big Ten play. Beyond Liddell, the team is scoring by-committee. Including two games from Sueing, seven Buckeyes are averaging between six and ten points per game. Well who’s scoring 20 if or when Liddell gets in foul trouble or misses a game? Sure, Zed Key did it against Duke, but he also has four games in which he has scored seven or less. I believe Branham has 15-point upside sooner than later, and the Buckeyes could use a new Duane Washington type to help shoulder the scoring load.
Better play from Joey Brunk… or none at all
Nothing against Brunk; he seems like a good dude, and he is always engaged on the bench, but six minutes per game for him is six too many — as it currently stands. I know that OSU is lacking in the size department, but if you can get by with playing Brunk just six minutes in every game, you can get by with him playing zero. He needs to be a break-in-case-of-emergency big man, unless he shows he can keep up with anybody on defense.
Six minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, but those are empty minutes. Wouldn’t you rather see six additional minutes for Russell, who is currently averaging less than 10 per game? Or more of Eugene Brown’s 3-and-D potential? Brunk was not expected to come in and do a whole lot, but the move seems like a bit of a swing and miss. Maybe he will prove me wrong as the season progresses. I hope that he does, and I hope that I have to eat crow on this. However, if his play doesn’t improve significantly, he should solely be working on his bench celebrations.
A consistently packed Schottenstein Center
Come on, people! Is the Schott as intimate or raucous as old St. John Arena where Ohio State used to play all of their homes games? No, no it is not. Is it still a great place to watch a game (or attend Frozen: On Ice)? Heck yeah it is. I know I am sick of seeing dead crowds in the arena, and even Chris Holtmann alluded to it in a recent interview — current and potentially future players don’t want to see that either.
We have great basketball teams to watch and support, so fill the place up! OSU crowds are typically great for big games, and The Nuthouse is always rocking, but that’s not good enough. Every Big Ten game should be packed. Same goes for big out-of-conference matchups. Don’t take what you’ve got for granted.
Now I get it: There are legitimate reasons we don’t see a sold-out Schott for every game. We are in the midst of a pandemic, for the eleventh year running it seems like. The Buckeyes just had their matchup with Kentucky cancelled as a result of Covid. A lot of tickets go to corporate entities that don’t use them. Some of the “old money” swallows up tickets and seems intent on wasting half of them. There is nothing we as avid fans can do about it. Everything is catered to corporations and monetized. But we should take advantage of whatever opportunities we get to go and cheer for our team. Go Bucks!