Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Did Ohio State’s B1G Tourney appearance give hope for next year?
The Ohio State men’s basketball team was defeated in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament this past Saturday, putting an end to what can only be described as a disappointing 2022-23 season.
With a .457 winning percentage, this ‘22-23 campaign will go down as the worst for the Ohio State men since 1997-98. On top of their ugly overall record, the Buckeyes also went 5-15 in conference play, had ZERO players named first, second, or third team All-Big Ten, and watched two teammates suffer late-season injuries — which may or may not impact those players’ future plans.
So one could, in all fairness, call this the season from hell. Aging Buckeye fans would then bring up the end of the Randy Ayers era, but that is neither here nor there. We’re talking 2022-23. Simply put, this season was not a success. By any stretch of the imagination.
However, the team’s B1G tourney performance may have provided a glimmer of hope. OSU made it to the semifinals, upset three higher-seeded teams, and got career-best performances from a trio of talented freshman.
Then again... maybe their unexpected run just goes to show that Holtmann and his squad vastly underachieved. If these Buckeyes were good enough to defeat Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State in consecutive days, and then go toe-to-toe with Purdue AGAIN, where was that same effort and execution for six freaking weeks during the regular season!?
And that is what Gene and I are debating: Did Ohio State’s B1G run get you excited for next season? Or make you even more disappointed in the result(s) of this one?
I myself am going to take an optimistic approach this time around. Because I was impressed with what I saw from Holtmann this past week, and very impressed by the play of three players who I believe will propel OSU to greater heights in the not-so-distant future.
Holtmann was on the receiving end of much criticism this season, most of it warranted in my humble opinion. You don’t start 10-3 then lose 100 games in a row because the players get progressively worse. Sure, the Big Ten is ultra-competitive and Zed Key was banged up, but this team’s dismal performance in the Big Ten points to substandard coaching and failure to adapt/adjust. And I was a Holtmann guy! I think I still am, but he did not meet expectations this season.
He did, however, rise to the occasion when confronted with the losses of Key and Brice Sensabaugh. Nobody gave Ohio State a chance once the their leading scorer went down, but it was only then that the salmon-suited coach seemed to (finally) let his guys play a style which fit their collective game. Bruce Thornton was handed the keys to the offense, Roddy Gayle was allowed to shoot, and the Buckeyes played fast!
Perhaps playing that particular style was made more difficult with Key and Sensabaugh in the lineup, but you go with what works. Holtmann, although backed into a corner of his own choosing, stumbled across a recipe for his team’s success and coached his tail off in March. He pushed the right buttons and, for what it’s worth, never let the Buckeyes give in or give up.
But the main reason I am excited for Ohio State’s immediate future is the ascent of Thornton, Gayle, and big man Felix Okpara. All three freshman elevated their game(s) late in the year and appear to be the core of the team moving forward. That core could also include Sensabaugh, but I am assuming that he takes advantage of his NBA opportunity, health permitting.
Thornton rode the struggle bus all of January, but is now a certified leader and floor general. Gayle, who was a willing defender but very unwilling shooter, blossomed into a legitimate offensive threat with loads of confidence. And Okpara, forced into action with the training wheels removed, suddenly profiles as a hyper-athletic defender and solid above-the-rim finisher. It’s all coming together, Gene!
As long as Holtmann leans into what made the Buckeyes successful in March, I believe the talent and the newfound confidence are both very real. It is a bummer that it took so long for things to come together, but seeing the way it ended, I believe this OSU team will be dancing again next March.
If you’ve listened to any of our episodes of Hangout in the Holy Land from this past season or read any of our previous You’re Nuts columns, you’ll know that I am certainly the more pessimistic of the two between Josh and I. However, this Ohio State men’s basketball season was so bad — and their tournament performance so much better than expected — that I too will choose to be optimistic for next season.
For starters, it would be pretty hard for the Buckeyes to play any worse next year than this did in 2022-23. Josh already laid out the details of this season’s shortcomings, but missing the tournament entirely after a 10-3 start to the campaign is just horrendous. You can blame the injuries or relying too much on too many young players, but at the end of the day, this Ohio State team just straight up under-achieved.
A lot of my optimism centers around the Big Ten Tournament play of freshman guard Roddy Gayle Jr. The first-year man averaged just 4.6 points per game this season, but he turned into almost an entirely different player for the Buckeyes in the postseason. Gayle Jr. scored 15 points in the win against Michigan State, including hitting all three of his three-pointers, and followed it up with 20 points to lead the team in the loss against Purdue.
There’s a reason that Gayle Jr. was a top-50 overall player in the 2022 recruiting class and the No. 2 shooting guard in the entire country, and he put those skills on display in the final two games of the year. It’s unclear why it took the freshman so long to feel comfortable shooting the rock, with only one prior game this season scoring in double figures (Dec. 3 against St. Francis), but if he can be the player he was for Ohio State in the B1G Tournament more consistently during next year’s regular season, he will be a huge asset for the Buckeyes.
I imagine we have seen the last of Brice Sensabaugh in an Ohio State jersey, but the Buckeyes will still bring back a handful of really talented players, including Bruce Thornton and Felix Okpara among the freshmen and most likely Zed Key for his senior season. They also have the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation coming in, including a trio of top-50 players in Taison Chatman, Scotty Middleton and Devin Royal. This will be a good roster on paper, but they have to put it all together this time.
There is no denying that this season was a tough look for Chris Holtmann. His teams at Ohio State have seemingly gotten worse year over year, and the Buckeye headman will be on the hottest of seats if the scarlet and gray fail to make the NCAA Tournament again next season. I am cautiously optimistic that Ohio State will be able to turn it around on the hardwood in 2023-24, but I’ll have to see it in order to fully believe it.