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Should I stay or should I go? Predicting who will depart the Ohio State men’s basketball program before next season

Due to COVID-19, all players have one more year of eligibility if they want it. We take a look at how likely it is that each member of the 2020-2021 roster returns next season.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Purdue Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Before the NCAA Tournament began, it was widely known that several key members of the Ohio State men’s basketball program would have decisions to make regarding their futures once the Buckeyes were eliminated from the postseason. Few people expected their season to end as quickly as it did, myself included. Ohio State’s historic and heartbreaking — yet hardly shocking — loss to 15-seed Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last weekend closed the door on a season that at one time looked extremely promising.

Entering the Big Ten Tournament on the heels of a four-game losing streak, Ohio State ripped off back-to-back-to-back wins against Minnesota, Purdue, and Michigan — whom they were a combined 0-4 against during the regular season. The Buckeyes then forced an elite Illinois team to overtime before falling in the closing minutes of the B1G Tournament title game. It appeared that the Buckeyes had shook off the rust and were firing on all cylinders once again before their opening-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. They became just the ninth team ever to lose to a 15-seed in the first round of the tournament.

Losing in the first round as a 2-seed isn’t just historic, it was incredibly painful for the team and fans alike. Ohio State had not been seeded that high in the tournament in nearly a decade, nor have they been to the Sweet Sixteen in nine years. That loss will become a trivia question for years, and like it or not, there will be doubt hanging over this basketball team every March until they can get over the hump — regardless of what they do in the regular season.

However, one silver lining to that heart-wrenching loss is knowing that no player wants to end their career on that note. No college basketball player wants to cap off their career losing in historic fashion, and luckily every member of this year’s team can stay if they choose to. The NCAA has granted an additional year of eligibility for all players due to the COVID-abnormalities of this season, so even those players who have exhausted their four years of eligibility can return as a “super senior” if they wish.

Will they all stay? No, they won’t. There will be at least one or two departures, if not more. But the extra year, plus ending the season like they did, will likely drive much of this roster to return if they weren’t already planning on doing so.

So, which members of the team are most likely to leave? We’ll break it down in order of most likely to leave to least likely.

CJ Walker

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Illinois Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2020-2021 classification: RS Senior
2020-2021 key stats: 9.5 PTS, 4.4 AST, 3.2 REB, 94% FT
Percent chance of leaving: 100%

Walker has already stated publicly that he does not plan on using the extra year of eligibility. Walker — who just turned 24 — has a two-year old daughter and has been in college for five years. He was everything the Buckeyes could have asked for in a leader and a point guard, providing Ohio State with a steady ballhandler for the first time in several years.

Walker will enter the 2021 NBA Draft, but he will go undrafted. He has the talent and basketball IQ to have a long, successful career overseas, and has expressed interest in coaching once his playing days are over. Walker has given everything to this Buckeye basketball program, but the loss to Oral Roberts was the last time we’ll see him in a Buckeye uniform.

Kyle Young

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

2020-2021 classification: Senior
2020-2021 key stats: 8.6 PTS, 5.5 REB, 84.6% FT, 43.3% 3PT, 1.8 OREB
Percent chance of leaving: 75%

Young has never been the focal point of Ohio State’s offense. Not even a top-three option. But time and time again, he has shown that he’s the most important player on this team. Between his rebounding, post presence, and general hustle, Kyle Young always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. On top of that, he nearly tripled his three-point percentage this season, improving from 15.4% last season to 43.3% this year. Young has been in Columbus for four seasons, but has missed a combined 23 games during his four seasons due to various injuries.

For Young’s sake, I hope he leaves the Ohio State basketball program. He is exactly the type of player that should take advantage of the extra year of eligibility, but after he sustained two concussions in a matter of three weeks this spring, I think Young needs to sign somewhere and make his money while he still can. I’m not a doctor, but piling up concussions in that short of a timeframe could very well impact his post-basketball life, too. I think Young will sign somewhere (not the NBA) and will have a nice career overseas, much like Walker. I just hope he’s healthy and physically able to play after the beating his noggin has taken recently.

E.J. Liddell

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oral Roberts at Ohio State IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

2020-2021 classification: Sophomore
2020-2021 key stats: 16.2 PTS, 6.7 REB, 1.8 AST, 47.4 FG%
Percent chance of leaving: 25%

Liddell earned First Team All-Big Ten honors last season, and will be one of — if not the — leading candidate to be next season’s B1G player of the year. He was fantastic for the Buckeyes last season, more than doubling his scoring output from his freshman year (6.7 PTS). Liddell was a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, especially in the later stages of the season where he was knocking down three-pointers more consistently. Too quick for traditional bigs to guard but too large for a guard to defend, Liddell is an opposing coach’s worst nightmare.

However, Liddell isn’t quite big enough to play the traditional center position, and isn’t mobile or quick enough to keep up with the best wings in the NBA. Former Buckeye Jae’Sean Tate is showing basketball fans that you don’t need to fit one particular mold to make it in the league, but I think Liddell could use one or two more years of college basketball before declaring. Specifically, Liddell’s passing was put under a microscope against Oral Roberts, who time and time again blitzed Ohio State’s star player, flustering him and often leading to turnovers or errant passes in their tournament loss. He may go through the NBA Draft process, but I’m pretty certain he’ll be back in Columbus in the fall.

Musa Jallow

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oral Roberts at Ohio State Joshua Bickel-USA TODAY Sports

2020-2021 classification: RS Junior
2020-2021 key stats: 2.9 PTS, 2.2 REB, 50.8 FG%
Percent chance of leaving: 15%

This is purely speculation on my end, but I would not be surprised if Jallow transferred out of the Ohio State basketball program this offseason. While he isn’t particularly gifted on the offensive end, he is efficient when he gets a chance, shooting over 50% from the floor this past season. But Moose’s calling card lies on the other end of the floor. Chris Holtmann has praised Jallow’s abilities on the defensive end time and time again, yet he’s never averaged more than 15 minutes per game. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Jallow can guard nearly every position on the floor if need be.

He is finishing up his fourth year at Ohio State, and has never averaged more than 2.9 points per game. I hope Jallow stays because I think he is a huge asset to this team, but I would not be shocked if he pursued other options in the coming weeks.

Duane Washington Jr.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

2020-2021 classification: Junior
2020-2021 key stats: 16.4 PTS, 3.4 REB, 2.9 AST, 32.2 MIN
Percent chance of leaving: 7%

I don’t think Washington is going anywhere, but I’d be a fool to not at least put him on the list with a 5-10% chance of leaving. Washington has increased his scoring output every season (from 7.0 to 11.5 to 16.4 PPG), and if he does that again next season, the combo of he and Liddell will be one of the best in the country. It’s no secret that Washington had a poor game against Oral Roberts, and I doubt he’ll want that to be what Ohio State fans remember him by.

Never say never, but I highly doubt he’ll even go through the draft process.

Players with less than 1% odds of leaving

Because if I’ve learned anything, you can never say never.

  • Justice Sueing - He’s already transferred once and had to sit out a year. He was a junior last season, and will return to OSU next season for one last ride. He’s not flashy, but a really solid player Ohio State is lucky to have.
  • Justin Ahrens - Ahrens had a breakout season this year, even if he faded down the stretch when teams began to lock onto him a bit more. I think he’ll be even better next season when Ohio State begins designing more plays for their sharpshooter.
  • Zed Key - Key has been uber-enthusiastic to come to Ohio State since his high school days. If Liddell returns, Key will most likely come off the bench as a sophomore, but he’ll see an uptick in minutes if Young departs.
  • Seth Towns - Both Holtmann and Towns himself have said on numerous occasions that they think he’ll be playing “with both legs beneath him” next season. A few weeks ago Towns posted on Instagram that he feels like he “played with one leg” down the stretch. If he’s fully healthy, he could elevate Ohio State from a great team to an elite one.
  • Jimmy Sotos - With Walker out of the picture, it will either be Sotos or Meechie Johnson running point for Ohio State next season. As long as he’s fully recovered from shoulder surgery, the opportunity will be there for him to be a major contributor.
  • Meechie Johnson - CJ Walker is gone and Jimmy Sotos is recuperating from shoulder surgery. Even if Sotos is healthy, there should be more minutes available for Johnson next season than there were this past year (5.8 minutes per game).
  • Eugene Brown - I think Brown could end up being a better version of Andre Wesson — someone who locks it down on the defensive end while also contributing 10-12 points per game offensively. Minutes should increase for him next season, as Holtmann really likes how hard he plays defense and his versatility on that end (similar to Jallow in that sense).
  • Ibrahima Diallo - I’m not sure what to make of Diallo still. Ohio State needs some length, but the 6-foot-10 big man from Senegal has played in just 13 games during his first two seasons. Next season should expose if he’s going to be a real contributor for the Buckeyes or if he can’t quite cut it in the Big Ten.
  • Harrison Hookfin and Jansen Davidson - Both are walk-ons, so if the roster spot is available I’m sure they’ll both be back.