clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

You’re Nuts: How should Ohio State split time between Felix Okpara and Zed Key?

Despite what the coaching staff has said previously, only one of the two will be a starter come November.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It’s almost May now, and while we may still see one final #BOOM with regards to the 2023-2024 team, rosters are pretty close to being set for the Buckeyes and the other Big Ten teams. It’s set enough that we can begin looking at what Ohio State has, and try to figure out who will play which roles, how minutes will be dished out, and so on.

We will get back to that momentarily.

Last week, we debated whether Tom Izzo has lost his marbles by proclaiming the Big Ten as the best conference in basketball, after another season where none of its schools made the Final Four. 58% of the people who voted sided with Connor that Izzo was crazy for saying that, and 42% agreed with Justin that he could “maybe” be crazy, but that he’s not completely nuts.

After 98 weeks:

Justin- 43
Connor- 40
Other- 11

(There have been four ties)

This week, we’re trying to figure out what to do with Ohio State’s two centers — senior Zed Key and sophomore Felix Okpara. Key missed the closing stretch of the season due to a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Okpara took over that starting spot and held his own for the most part.

It’s clear Okpara can’t rot on the bench after scratching the surface this past season. There’s also zero chance Key rides the bench after steadily improving each of his first three years.

Today’s Question: How should Ohio State split the time between Felix Okpara and Zed Key?

Connor: Felix starts, Zed plays slightly less than Felix

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 11 Big Ten Tournament - Ohio State v Purdue Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Come November I think Felix Okpara will be Ohio State’s starting center. That might be against Texas A&M on Nov. 10, as the Buckeyes just announced a home-and-home series against the Aggies starting this year, and Nov. 10 is without a doubt one of the first games of the season.

Okpara brings stuff to Ohio State on both offense and defense that Key cannot. Offensively, he lives above the rim and is a constant threat to climb the ladder, grab a high pass, and slam it home. He can also anchor down in the paint and back people down, but the “go grab a lob and slam it home” part of his game is more advanced than his one-on-one post offense.

This style of play is more suited for a higher tempo, while Key’s slow, methodical post style is better suited for a half court offense. Ohio State will continue to try to speed things up this year, and Okpara’s skillset plays a bit better with quicker tempo.

Defensively, Okpara contests shots at a much higher rate than Key does, and his length and larger wingspan impact pretty much every shot taken within 10 feet of the basket. You could see this during Ohio State’s games against Michigan State towards the end of the season, when star point guard Tyson Walker was forced to change the angle of his shots below the basket to make sure it got over the outstretched arms of the 6-foot-11 freshman center.

Key did block one shot per game last season, but Okpara blocked 1.3 per game while playing nine fewer minutes per game than Key. Okpara just brings a dynamic twist to Ohio State on both ends that Key does not.

Conveniently, Key is currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery that he underwent last month. Key injured his shoulder against Purdue in January, and after trying to play through it for awhile, was shut down in February and had surgery in March. He’s expected to be recovered and fully cleared in five to six months, which would put him back at practice by August or September — near the beginning of practice.

While Key won’t miss pre-season practice, the injury will cost him essentially his entire off-season. It would not surprise me at all if Ohio State goes with Okpara in November, citing Key’s lack of an off-season and needing to “continue to get back to game speed and conditioning.” Even with Okpara starting, I still think Key plays upwards of 15-20 minutes per night — he just won’t be the starting center.

Justin - Zed Key should start

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

It is kind of insane that I am arguing that Ohio State should start the center that was Honorable Mention All-Conference, only struggled last season when he was hurt and should be able to bounce back in a big way — and yet I have the unpopular opinion. But it is a tough world out here.

Zed Key finished last season playing in 25 games, starting 23, averaging 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, shooting 55 percent from the field and 66 percent from the free throw line. He got hurt early in the Big Ten season against Purdue, and even though he tried to play through it, was never really the same and eventually got shut down to have surgery, letting Felix Okpara receive the starting nod for the rest of the season.

Key is not perfect and has room to grow, but with the Buckeyes bringing in Jamison Battle to play the four and spread the floor out more, Key won’t have to play on the outside and can strictly be back to the basket and get back to the double-double machine he was before his injury against Purdue.

And don’t get me wrong, Okpara is a great player, and the coaching staff should split their minutes pretty evenly at 20 and 20. With Battle, Devin Royal and Kalen Etzler playing the four all season, Key and Okpara will never share the floor because they both strictly play the five.

Key can very easily come back and average 14 and 10, and that would be huge for a team with scorers like Battle, Bruce Thornton, and Roddy Gayle. It is a nice situation because Okpara and Key do two very different things on the floor and can give the staff different looks and rotations depending on who else is on the floor.

I think Key starts but they split the minutes 20-20. Again, we forget that Key was an all-conference honorable mention selection. That is solid momentum to find off and bring into next season as he gets fully healthy.

Fingers gun will be back in a big way. Count on it.


How should Ohio State split the Felix Okpara and Zed Key minutes?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Felix should start, with Zed playing a good amount off the bench
    (40 votes)
  • 30%
    Zed should start, but the minutes should be split about evenly
    (25 votes)
  • 19%
    They should both start
    (16 votes)
81 votes total Vote Now