On the floor, there are reasons for Ohio State fans to be optimistic. The front court could be a strength this year, even though they lost a lot of production. On the wings, Keita Bates-Diop returns from injury and Jae’Sean Tate is the Buckeyes leading returning scorer. The most intriguing player on the team just might be Caleb Wesson. The local freshman is 6’9 and 270 pounds and looks to contribute immediately.
The bench has some pieces as well, including 6-9 Micah Potter, who averaged 4.1 points and 3.1. Andre Wesson, Caleb’s brother, struggled some as a freshman, but will likely be able to give some quality minutes, too. Also added into the mix will be Kyle Young, a 6’8 freshman that was originally committed to Butler, but decided come to Columbus with Chris Holtmann. I personally think Young might crack the starting lineup sooner rather than later, as he is a talented player that gives effort on both sides of the floor.
The back court returns Kam Williams and C.J. Jackson, the starting two guards at the end of last season. Incoming freshman Musa Jallow, a 6’5 guard from Indiana, could provide quality play, too.
All of this adds up to a team that could be good. I can’t call it at this point, as there are so many question marks at key positions, and some of the main returners from last year are still underclassman or coming off of injury. The reason why the fan in me is optimistic is there is also a lot of veteran leadership. Kam Williams and Jae’Sean Tate are seniors, as is graduate transfer Andrew Dakich. Along with the motivation of having a new coach, all of this could mean Ohio State will be able to put the pieces together earlier than expected.
The non-conference schedule is about two thirds cupcakes mixed in with one third brutal. Ohio State will probably go 9-5 in the non-conference, and 7-11 in the conference and be a bubble NIT team at .500. Best case scenario is that they manage an upset or two in the non-conference, and go 9-9 in conference and are sitting squarely on the NCAA bubble with 20 wins. Worst case is that they never gel, lose to a few cupcakes, and struggle to win 10 games.
My preview is brief because the upcoming season is a giant question mark. I don’t know how much Wesson, Young, and Jallow will contribute. There are things I love about C.J. Jackson’s game, and there are things that frighten me. How Bates-Diop comes back from injury is also a huge unknown. Throw in a brand new head coach and how each of these unknown pieces fit together and I really have no clue what to expect. I am just going to sit back and enjoy the season without many expectations, much like last season.
A big disappointment for me last season wasn’t how the team performed as much as how the fans did. Ohio State was coming off their first bad season in the Thad Matta era, where they “only” won 21 games. The fans responded by leaving over 40% of the seats empty in the 2016 home opener. He hasn’t been here long, but I am confident coach Holtmann will get the recruits if he is given the opportunity. If the fans are lukewarm and don’t rally behind the new guy, Ohio State just wont get the recruits.
The paradox of being Ohio State in this day and age is that they don’t currently draw the recruits like Kentucky or Duke. However, they get enough attention that the D’angelo Russells of the world can play one season and get the giant contract. Places like Gonzaga and Butler can make runs deep into the tournament is because they can keep quality players all 4 years. The only way Ohio State can get out of this middle ground is if the fans support the team and make it a destination for star players, like early in Matta’s career.