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Player preview: Ohio State junior forward E.J. Liddell

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

For the last of the Land-Grant Holy Land Ohio State basketball player preview series, we literally saved the best for last. E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington were the two Buckeyes that put their names in the NBA draft and tested the waters.

Washington stayed in and Liddell is coming back to Columbus. So we obviously won’t be taking a look at Washington but we will be breaking down Liddell as he makes his return.

WHAT HE HAS DONE: Liddell is returning to Columbus as not only one of the top players in the conference, but one of the top players in the nation. In high school, Liddell was named Mr. Illinois in basketball in 2018 and 2019, becoming only the second player in state history to win the award twice, the only other one being Jabari Parker. Liddell averaged 20-10 his senior year at Belleville West High School. He was named St. Louis Post-Dispatch metro area high school player of the decade.

Liddell came into Ohio State as the No. 44 ranked player in the 2019 recruiting class and the No. 8 power forward in the country. The 6-6, 220-pound forward made an immediate impact for Chris Holtmann and the Buckeyes, playing in 31 games and averaging almost seven points per game and four rebounds per game.

His sophomore season, Liddell took a giant leap forward, starting in and playing in 29 games and averaging 16.2 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game. He boosted his three-point percentage from 19% to 34%, adding an entire new aspect to his game that didn’t exist before last season. He also shot 48% from the field and 75% from the free-throw line, both higher marks than his freshman season.

Liddell was selected to the First-Team All-Big Ten by the coaches, media and the Associated Press. He was also named as one of the top 20 breakout players of the 2020-21 season by Jon Rothstein.

WHAT’S NEXT: With Duane Washington gone to the NBA, this is officially Liddell’s team. He is the best player on the team and has worked his way into the list of top forwards in the country. Liddell entered the NBA draft and went through the pre-draft process and decided to return to Ohio State for his junior season with some specific things in mind.

Since he likely only has one year left in Columbus, he will take the season to work on the things he needs to boost his NBA draft profile and stock. Namely, improving his defense on the perimeter and his shooting from the mid-range and outside.

PROJECTED ROLE: His role is simple. He will play every minute that he can and if he is able to be on the floor, he will be. Liddell is now the star of this team and with the loss of Daune Washington, Liddell will have to shoulder more of the scoring load than originally expected. Hopefully for Liddell, Justice Sueing and Cedric Russell will help shoulder some of the scoring load but at least early on, Liddell will be the guy.

Liddell will get to form into a new role this season, playing exclusively at the four. In his first two seasons, Liddell was forced to jump into the four and the five due to injuries and a lack of a true center for the Buckeyes. Now, with Joey Brunk, Kyle Young and Zed Key, Liddell will have the freedom to be more of a creator in his own space and not have to play center and go up against bigger guys every game.

This will allow Liddell to work on his shooting and spacing more and work on his NBA draft stock at the four more.

Liddell will have high expectations coming into the season and he will have to manage those. He will be one of the more fun players to watch in the conference this upcoming season.