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You’re Nuts: Who will be the “X-factor” on this Ohio State men’s basketball team?

Team 124’s roster is locked in. Which player’s performance (or lack thereof) will be the most vital to Ohio State’s success?

Oklahoma State v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

With the addition of former Oklahoma State guard Isaac Likekele via transfer, Ohio State’s 2022-2023 roster is now set. Here’s a quick look at what you’ll be seeing on the court come November:

  • Seth Towns (F)
  • Justice Sueing (F)
  • Kalen Etzler (F)
  • Zed Key (C)
  • Gene Brown (F)
  • Roddy Gayle (G)
  • Bruce Thornton (G)
  • Bowen Hardman (G)
  • Brice Sensabaugh (F)
  • Felix Okpara (C)
  • Isaac Likekele (G)
  • Tanner Holden (G)
  • Sean McNeil (G)

It’s an intriguing roster with a ton of new faces and quite a bit of versatility. The starting lineup you see in early November won’t be the same in early December, and it certainly won’t be the same in early March. It’ll be interesting to see how the minutes get broken down — who forces Holtmann’s hand with their play, who fades towards the back of the rotation, etc.

But first, let’s backtrack. Last week, Connor and Justin drafted their own Ohio State teams made up exclusively of Buckeyes since the year 2000 — and then we asked you to vote. Justin’s team won overwhelmingly with 73% of the vote, giving him another win and bringing him closer and closer to Connor’s 21 wins.

After 48 weeks:

Connor- 21
Justin- 19
Other- 6

(There have been two ties)

This week, Connor and Justin took a look at the roster and picked one player and anointed them as Ohio State’s X-factor. Here is the definition of X-factor from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

“X-factor: a circumstance, quality, or person that has a strong but unpredictable influence”

So essentially, a player whose productivity is unknown, but whose performance will have a very strong influence on the team’s success. With about six months until the season starts, here’s who we went with:

Today’s question: Who will be the “x-factor” on this Ohio State men’s basketball team?


Connor: Zed Key

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 15 Minnesota at Ohio State Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ohio State was 12th in the Big Ten in rebounds per game last season, in front of only Minnesota and Nebraska — who combined for eight conference wins. They were also 12lfth in offensive rebounding and 10th in defensive rebounding. Last season’s team was bad on the glass all-around, and it was painfully obvious on some nights.

And with three of Ohio State’s four leading rebounders gone (E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young, Malaki Branham), I really expected the Buckeyes to pick up at least one post player in the transfer portal. They did not, instead opting for a true shooting guard in Sean McNeil and two hybrid guards who could play multiple positions in 6-foot-6 Tanner Holden and 6-foot-5 Isaac Likekele.

Liddell’s absence also means increased pressure and attention to the Buckeyes’ three-point shooting, which at 37.3% was third-best in the Big Ten behind Purdue and Michigan State. Gone are the days of Liddell dribbling into post-ups by himself, forcing double-teams and drawing the defense in.

All of the above adjustment explains why third-year center Zed Key is going to be so crucial for the Buckeyes this season.

Key was one of the more popular targets of Ohio State fans’ frustrations last season, criticizing his shortcomings to do.... well, anything. People were upset he didn’t rebound enough (he averaged 5.6 per game), turned the ball over too often (1.1 turnovers per game), or in general was just too “soft.” Someone told me that Key might be better at power forward rather than focusing on the post, and another commented that Key is “A MAC player at best.”

Key actually improved all of his counting stats from his freshman to sophomore seasons and nearly doubled his minutes. His points (5.2 to 7.8), rebounds (3.4 to 5.6), assists (0.3 to 0.5) and free throw percentage (55% to 58%) all improved. His overall field goal percentage dropped from 61.6% to 56.2%, but part of that has to do with his increased minutes (11.7 minutes as a freshman to 19.8 as a sophomore) and usage (3.2 field goal attempts per game as a freshman to 5.8 as a sophomore).

The Buckeyes need Key to make a similar jump from his sophomore to junior season if they have any hope for competing for a Big Ten title. This Ohio State roster isn’t built to rain down a high volume of three-pointers or dominate the glass. Key needs to lead this team in rebounds and needs to stay out of foul trouble so that he is able to do that.

He also needs to continue to shoot at that same efficient clip (55%-60%) and draw double-teams — something Liddell did often that opened up the floor for others to get open looks. Since this team only has two established perimeter threats (McNeil and Towns) Key’s ability to draw defenders in will be crucial to the Buckeyes’ success scoring the basketball.

If Zed doesn’t take a big step forward this season, everyone else’s job gets considerably harder. His development is the biggest plotline to watch, and that’s why he is Ohio State’s x-factor this season.


Justin: Isaac Likekele

Oklahoma State v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

First of all, can we talk about this comeback in the polls I am making? Don’t look now, but I think I have a chance at this thing. Of course, we don’t know when this is actually over, so there is that.

This team is truly fascinating and I think will be one of the more interesting teams in the country. I don’t know how good they are going to be, but they will be intriguing.

My pick for the X-factor this season is the final piece to the puzzle. The Buckeyes just two days ago added Oklahoma State guard/forward Isaac Likekele as a grad transfer and the 13th scholarship to the team. Likekele is the most important player on this team to me.

Likekele is everything you look for in a transfer when you have a fairly young team. A four-year starter at a major university, versatile athlete and plays both ways well. Likekele is 6-foot-5, 215 pounds and can play and guard the 1-4 positions. There is a decent chance that he will be the starting point guard for the Buckeyes if they elect to bring Bruce Thornton off the bench, at least to start the season.

Interestingly enough, Likekele is coming off his wort statistical season of his career. He averaged 7.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. For his four-year career, Likekele averaged 8.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He also averaged 1.4 steals per game for his career, proving his worth on the defensive end of the floor.

Something the Buckeyes were lacking last season was the Swiss Army Knife. Justice Sueing was thought to be the guy that can fill that role, but he ended up missing all but two games of the season due to injury. Now, Likekele will join Sueing as someone who can fill that role. Also, as mentioned above, he is a guy who can play the 1 through the 4 and can play 30-35 minutes a game if need be. Through all four seasons, he averaged 31.4 minutes per game in Stillwater.

I like the approach the Buckeyes took with this roster. Get some versatile, talented athletes and hand them a basketball and let them go hoop. Likekele’s game is a part of that group.


Poll

Who is Ohio State’s x-factor going into the season?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Zed Key (Connor)
    (26 votes)
  • 30%
    Isaac Likekele (Justin)
    (47 votes)
  • 52%
    Someone else
    (82 votes)
155 votes total Vote Now