Spring is a time of rebirth, where what was once dormant can come back to life with the vibrancy of a sunny sky and field full of flowers. That is the vibe from this week’s LGHL Asks fan survey. We wanted to get your thoughts on the future of the Ohio State football and men’s basketball programs, and it looks like there’s a bit of optimism in some places that we haven’t seen in a while.
With the football team in the midst of spring practices and the men’s basketball team squarely pivoted to next season, we asked about breakout football players, your feelings about Chris Holtmann’s program, and next year’s MBB roster.
If you want to participate in LGHL’s SB Nation Reacts surveys, check out our questionnaires every week.
Question 1: Which football upperclassman will have a breakout spring?
Overall, a pretty good distribution of picks here, but I like where your collective head is at. Ballard came in with a reputation for being an absolute blue-chip burner. But, injuries have prevented him from thus far living up to expectations like his fellow highly recruited receivers have.
However, appearing to be healthy, Ballard is getting a lot of reps this spring with Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming not participating due to injuries. Not only is Ballard a bigger focal point in offensive drills, but he also had the honor of participating in C.J. Stroud’s Pro Day alongside Marvin Harrison Jr. and Xavier Johnson. Obviously, Stroud and the OSU coaching staff must think pretty highly of him to put him in that situation.
With his speed, Ballard could open up yet another facet in the already incredible receiver room. As always, Brian Hartline has a great group of WRs returning this year — Marv, Emeka, Fleming, X — and some studs waiting for their turn — Brandon Innis, Noah Rodgers, Carnell Tate — but having an experienced guy with top-botch straight-line speed like Ballard in the mix could prove to be really exciting for whoever ends up behind center for the Buckeyes.
Question 2: Following the Big Ten Tournament run, how do you feel about the men’s basketball team moving forward?
When the Ohio State men’s basketball team is rolling, it’s a lot of fun to be a fan. While OSU will always be a football school, there is just something different about following a basketball team that feels different. Maybe it’s the frequency of games, the smaller venues, or getting to see the players’ faces, but the excitement is more palpable.
We didn’t get the chance to have that much in the second half of the men’s season this year (still definitely have it for the women), but in the team’s last seven games, that electricity was back with Chris Holtmann’s squad. And — at least for me — I think that Big Ten Tournament run helped reframe not only the season that has now passed but also what the expectations should be for the 2023-24 season.
While there will undoubtedly eventually be transfers out of the program, and could potentially be someone (or maybe someones) heading to the NBA, a big part of this year’s squad will be back in the fall, and they will be joined by an elite — and perhaps not yet complete — recruiting class.
So, the fact that this core group was able to stick together and make something positive out of what otherwise was a horrible season is promising. While I love Zed Key, his injury forced the young players to step up when the center’s season ended and it gave us the chance to see what the four main freshmen could actually do, and it was impressive.
Bruce Thornton took another major step forward down the stretch and Roddy Gayle Jr. proved that he was ready for the spotlight during the B1G Tournament. While Felix Okpara needs to bulk up to battle down low for a full Big Ten season, what he was able to do as the team’s primary big man was incredibly encouraging.
Of course, the jury is still out on whether or not Brice Sensabaugh will be back in Columbus or not next season, it only makes sense that he will test the NBA waters to access his draft stock before making his final decision. The only reason that wouldn’t be feasible is if the knee injury that ended his season is more substantial than people assume.
Either way, I’m with y’all, the young talent on this team has me excited for what’s still to come.
Question 3: Who will be the men’s basketball team’s leading scorer in 2023-24?
Personally, I would not have had Sensabaugh anywhere on this list, because I think he’s gone, but I am interested in Thornton at the top with nearly 1⁄3 of the votes. The young guard clearly stepped up as the season went on and became a dangerous scorer as his freshman campaign progressed.
Gayle also equated himself really well to a bigger role in the rotation during the tournament, so I’m ok with him being that high. However, I have to say, Key being down at just 6% behind Devin Royal — who plays his final high school game at Pickerington Central this weekend — is a little surprising. I know that Mr. Finger Guns’ shoulder injury this season made him far less effective than we thought he would be, but he is still a really solid post player.
I admit that the team did seem to have a much better flow when he was out, as the young, athletic players were able to run a little bit more and weren’t focused on working the ball into the paint as much, but I think that Key still has another level to unlock in his development and that Holtmann can work on a way to maximize the talents on the team to get the most out of the big man. So, I don’t know that I would have him at No. 1 or 2, but 6% seems a bit low to me.