- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Kyle Young, Musa Jallow, Duane Washington
Key Losses: CJ Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
Key Newcomers: CJ Walker (Florida State), DJ Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddell
Outlook: Chris Holtmann burst out of the gates in his first year in Columbus, shocking the world by leading the Buckeyes to a gaudy 25-9 (15-3) mark and finishing 2nd in the Big Ten. Last season, OSU took an expected step back with the graduation of Keita Bates-Diop, but Holtmann still managed to bring his squad to a second straight NCAA Tournament. With the loss of only two key pieces, a natural replacement for CJ Jackson coming in through the transfer wire, and the 12th best recruiting class in the country, Ohio State looks to be a legitimate Big Ten title contender in 2019-20.
OSU struggled on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 13th in the Big Ten in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metrics. Without KBD, the Buckeyes lacked a go-to wing / backcourt scorer and instead had to rely on Kaleb Wesson for offense. Wesson played his part admirably, putting up 1.005 PPP in post-up situations (87th percentile nationally), but it’s hard to be an elite offensive team when playing through a center. Jackson did what he could, but the departed Keyshawn Woods and freshman Duane Washington were inefficient at best and fellow guards Musa Jallow and Luther Muhammad were much more defensive-minded players. This season, the offense should still largely go through Wesson, but the big man will have help in Florida State transfer CJ Walker and a trio of talented freshmen.
Wesson expanded his game last season, evolving into a versatile weapon on offense instead of a strict low-block presence. Here’s his shot chart from the past two seasons (2018 on left; 2019 on right):
Wesson’s burgeoning jumper will be key for a Buckeyes squad that is looking to space the floor on offense. Holtmann often features a 4-out, 1-in look to his attack, with the “one” last year usually being Wesson or Kyle Young. While Wesson has started to develop his game away from the hoop, he’s still cognizant of his size and ability to finish in the paint. Below is an example of how he uses his wide frame to get position on his defender and an easy hoop:
Lining up alongside Wesson in the frontcourt last year was either / both Young and Kaleb’s older brother, Andre Wesson. Andre Wesson’s greatest value to the Buckeyes is his leadership, particularly this season, as he’s the only senior (and 4-year player) on the roster. Andre’s offensive game isn’t flashy – he’s a steady forward that can shoot a little from the outside or occasionally take his man to the bucket. Defensively, he serves as a guy that can matchup at multiple spots. Young is more of a bruiser, a paint-bound presence that shot 70% from inside the arc last year, the 11th best rate in the country. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to eat as much glass as possible. The Kaleb / Kyle combo was the most successful last year from an analytics perspective, but OSU also thrived when the three shared the floor:
This season, Holtmann adds two more potential pieces two the frontcourt rotation in top 50 freshmen EJ Liddell and Alonzo Gaffney. Liddell is the more college-ready prospect of the two, and his physicality and athleticism could allow him to earn some starts during his rookie season. He offers rim protection, rebounding, and even a little bit of shooting from the power forward spot. Gaffney is a freakishly long (like Slender Man long) wing that can play either the 3 or 4. At 6’9” with a wingspan that reaches the moon, Gaffney has all the biometric traits to be a superstar down the road. His issue right now is his strength, something that fortunately can be improved. Once he develops that strength, the sky is the limit on his potential as a 3-and-D wing. 3-star big man Ibrahima Diallo is a raw 7-footer that likely needs a year or two to develop.
Muhammad, Jallow, Washington, and sophomore Justin Ahrens are the returners in Holtmann’s backcourt. They’ll be joined by a couple of point guards in top 50 freshman DJ Carton and FSU import CJ Walker. Starting with the returners, expect Muhammad to have one of the starting guard spots on lockdown after proving to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big Ten last year as a freshman. Offensively, Muhammad shot 37.5% from deep, but just 37.3% from two, an area in which he must improve in order to aid the Buckeyes’ offense this season. But ultimately, Muhammad’s value stems from his defensive prowess:
Similar to Muhammad, Jallow is a defense-first wing that can matchup 1-3. He’s yet to consistently contribute on the offensive end and likely won’t once again in 2019-20. On the flip side, Washington is a player that can absolutely blossom into a major offensive threat; he’s quick, he’s confident (to a fault); and he can create his own shot. Washington’s issue is his shot selection and decision-making. Somehow, he ranked 4th in the Big Ten in usage while on the floor – not something OSU wanted from a 36.9% overall shooter. The tools are there for Washington. He just needs to learn how to use them.
Ahrens likely gets pushed to the end of the pine with the arrival of Walker and Carton. Walker appears to be a perfect replacement for the departed Jackson (they even share a first name!); he was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school in 2016 and started 34 games for the Seminoles during his sophomore year. Walker will be able to come in and provide shooting while playing either on or off the ball. Carton could very well start from day one as a freshman. Though he stands just 6’1”, Carton’s 6’6” wingspan and athleticism makes him a college-ready prospect and potential Big Ten NCOY. The freshman will impact both sides of the ball with his versatility and will add a punch of scoring to complement Walker.
Bottom Line: Ohio State has the potential to be very, very good this season. Holtmann is one of the best coaches in the country and he has at his disposal a complete team with size, scoring, rebounding, toughness, experience, and talent. Michigan State may be the unanimous favorite to cut down the nets in the Big Ten, but it wouldn’t shock me to see the Buckeyes on the ladder instead.