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The Ohio State men’s basketball team could have a point guard problem on its hands

While the excitement for Bruce Thornton is justifiably high, he should not be expected to shoulder the burden of the position all by himself.

Thornton could be a star in the making, but will he be the only point guard on Ohio State’s re-tooled roster?
Caitlyn Jordan/Naples Daily News/USA Today Network-Florida / USA TODAY NETWORK

A little background before we get started: I was never a point guard — at least not past fifth grade — so I might not be an expert on the position. I know how to dribble and pass, but neither skill was ever a super-high priority for me. Points win games, not press-breaking and post feeds.

So, when I played in high school, I was what knowledgeable basketball coaches affectionately refer to as a “black hole”. And my affinity for shooting also earned me another nickname. My freshman coach used to whisper it under his breath so teammates wouldn’t know I was receiving preferential treatment. He would always say “this f____n’ guy”, barely above a whisper, and sometimes while shaking his head.

But I always heard it, and even though he occasionally told me otherwise, I knew exactly what it meant. It meant that I was his foxhole guy, and he just couldn’t believe the confidence with which I shot the ball. It rarely went in, but I had an uncanny ability to shake off each miss and get locked and loaded for the next opportunity. I always told him: I’d rather go 0-for-30 than 0-for-9, because you go 0-for-9, that means you stopped shooting. That means you lost confidence.” I like to think coach always appreciated that mentality.

And on the topic of coaching, I think peaked early there, as well. My dad and I had a nice little run years ago, taking my younger sister’s squad all the way to a Greater Columbus YMCA Youth Championship Game. I could never get over the 22-19 defeat we suffered in that illustrious title game, so I refrained from holding a clipboard for a very long time. But I’m a dad now, and I was recently asked to fill in for a youth soccer game. I almost single-handedly willed the five and six-year olds to victory from the sideline, but was told after the game that my competitive spirit was off-putting. It’s funny how nobody ever said the same thing to Michael Jordan.

So where am I going with this? Why all the background? It is to humbly admit that I am not the foremost expert on point guards or coaching (college basketball, in this case). However, I do know a little something about the game, and I’ve done my fair share of watching it from the couch. And with that being said, I feel very confident in saying that point guard play is crucial to any team’s success. Unfortunately, Ohio State has very little depth at the position, and I’m starting to feel a tad uneasy about the upcoming season. No offense to Bruce Thornton, because I think he is a future star.

The fact of the matter is, the Buckeyes lack any depth behind the incoming freshman. We have seen PG depth bite this team in the you-know-where before, especially in recent years. In fact, we just watched it rear its ugly head in a number of games this past season. Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler was brought in to replace C.J. Walker – another transfer PG – and he did a heck of a job (in my opinion). But when Wheeler was unable to get it going or found himself in foul trouble, OSU turned to... pretty much nobody.

Meechie Johnson was injured or ineffective during the second half of the season, eliminating one potential option. Beyond that, the coaching staff lacked faith in Cedric Russell to handle the ball, and was strangely averse to handing off duties to Jimmy Sotos. It was Wheeler or bust, and even when he was in the game, the offense often became iso-heavy for E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham. Those two players did a lot with a little, but good shots were hard to come by when defenses swarmed the future first-round draft picks.

The lack of shooting and subsequent spacing also played a role in the sometimes-stagnant offense, but again, it goes back to depth. Ohio State has done a good job of adding to next season’s roster with plenty of wings, but very little in the way of proven ball handlers. Thornton, a four-star recruit and top-50 player, seems capable of filling the starting PG position, but he has never suited up against a Big Ten opponent — or any college opponent, for that matter. Even if Thornton turns out to be OSU’s next version of Mike Conley or D’Angelo Russell, to expect 30-35 minutes from him right away seems unfair (and unrealistic).

Now, Justice Sueing will be back in the fold for the Buckeyes – and he has proven to be comfortable with the ball in his hands – but he is not a point guard. His career high for assists per game (in a season) is TWO POINT ZERO, which came all the way back in 2018-19. When he has flashed playmaking ability for the scarlet and gray, he has done so while flanked by Liddell and Duane Washington. Next season, Sueing will be counted on as a primary scoring threat, not a facilitating point forward. Wright State transfer Tanner Holden has also showcased some playmaking ability, but I don’t think Ohio State brought him in to drop five dimes per game.

There is simply a dearth of PG depth for OSU, no matter how you cut it. Roddy Gayle is yet another option to potentially handle the rock, but he profiles as more of a scorer. To count on Sueing, Holden, or Gayle (or Sean McNeil), would be taking a leap of faith. And maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I just lack said faith. I don’t necessarily doubt Chris Holtmann’s ability to coach or build a roster, but point guard depth and/or recruiting has been a recurring theme under the current coach. He has consistently relied upon the transfer market to fill a void left by recruiting.

Admittedly, there is still time for Holtmann and his staff to add to the 2022-23 roster, and we have heard just about every possible transfer mentioned as a target for the Buckeyes. So maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill here. They could feasibly add a Wheeler or Sotos type, and put my concerns to rest. But as of right now, my anxiety level is creeping higher and higher. Ohio State is a top-25 program, and it shouldn’t be this difficult to find more than one capable point guard... yet here we are.