After defeating Loyola-Chicago and then falling in the round of 32 to the now final four bound Villanova Wildcats, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball teams season is now over.
With April approaching and March Madness basically in the rearview mirror, it is time for the hoops team to start thinking about the future. What will the roster construct look like? When will the freshman be impact players? Which one of the nearly 1,000 transfers in the portal should the coaching staff target? All of these are questions that need to be answered as head coach Chris Holtmann and his staff face an important season coming up.
The difference between Ohio State being a top-five team in the conference again and having a rebuilding season comes down to how they handle the next six months, as is the case with a lot of teams.
Here are the five main questions the staff and team must answer if they want next season to be a productive one.
Who comes back?
First of all, for the Buckeyes, they could be facing a max exodus. The Buckeyes have nine seniors in the program and have already lost E.J. Liddell to the draft and could lose star freshman Malaki Branham as well, although that decision is likely far down the road. They have five freshmen coming in, but that still leaves possibly five or six spots to fill.
The problem that the staff could face is preparing for all potential outcomes. Justice Sueing and Seth Towns have a year of eligibility left that they could utilize, but even if the two seniors and Branham all decide to return, the bucks could still have three spots to fill.
However, they might not get all of these answers for a couple of months and the transfers in the portal are not going to sit around and wait. The staff now has the tricky job of juggling decisions with their current guys with trying to get commitments from some of the top transfers, none of whom will be on the market for too long.
Additions from the transfer portal
As mentioned above, the transfer portal is becoming an increasingly important way that teams reload their rosters after the season and once their recruiting classes are official. One of the big questions that coaches face since there are so many players in the portal is do they go after straight-up talent or do they try to pick pieces to fit on their team? Last season, Ohio State picked up needed pieces, but all in all, minus a few solid moments, the transfers they brought in underperformed.
So do the Buckeyes go after needed fits again or just elite talent like an Andre Curbelo? The Illinois transfer is not the best fit to what the Buckeyes likely need next season, but he is one of the top overall talents in the portal and is a high-risk, high-reward guy.
Personally, I want them to get some serious talent and figure out how to make it work from there. Let the coaches do their job with the best possible players.
Chris Holtmann has put together a phenomenal coaching staff during his time at Ohio State and it has shown with the attention that his assistants have gotten from other schools. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, this season that attention was more than just attention. Holtmann’s right-hand man and top assistant coach Ryan Pedon has moved onto greener pastures, accepting his first head coaching job at Illinois State and first-year assistant coach Tony Skinn is heading back to the DMV to be an assistant coach under Kevin Willard at Maryland.
There are still some great coaches on the staff and Holtmann has done a particularly good job of replacing assistants in the past, but Pedon leaves the biggest hole that he has ever had to fill. The Buckeyes love Jake Diebler and Holtmann has been vocal about wanting to add Greg Oden to the staff full time once he graduates. Look for the Buckeyes to make some sizable coaching additions over the next few months.
Other conference team questions
Even though there were questions all season about how good the teams in the Big Ten actually were, there was no denying the conference’s individual talent.
Guys like Keegan Murray, Johnny Davis, Jaden Ivey, E.J. Liddell (sad), Hunter Dickinson, and Kofi Cockburn are all going to be heading to the NBA Draft; also B1G teams are losing some of their old guys like Jordan Bohannan, Brad Davison and Kyle Young (again, sad).
The league will likely look a lot different come fall, especially with most of the top teams losing their best talent. The transfer portal and incoming freshmen should play a huge role this season, likely benefitting the Buckeyes since they have the top recruiting class in the conference.
Incoming freshman class
The Buckeyes have one of their best-recruiting classes coming to Columbus in a long time, but they will be put to the test immediately. As mentioned above, if Branham, Sueing and/or Towns come back, there will be less pressure on these guys to perform immediately, but if those three all move on — which they could — multiple freshmen will need to play 20-25 minutes at least as soon as they step foot on campus.
Freshmen playing right away can be a good or a bad thing. This is a great class overall, but none of these guys are five-star, top-tier recruits. Malaki Branham was fantastic this season, but it even took him 10-12 games to really get his feet wet. The Buckeyes will need to add some veterans from the portal if Sueing and Towns do not come back and/or aren’t able to contribute right away, otherwise, it will be tough to expect much from the freshmen early on.