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Ohio State Men’s Basketball, 2020-21: A Post Mortem

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When the pu pu platter accidentally gets good

Syndication: Nashville
Hey there’s E.J.
Nancy Vienneau / For The Tennessean

Max Abmas, Kevin Obenor, and the holy spirit of Oral Roberts put a nail gun to Ohio State’s tourney dreams. Buckeye fans learning the names of some of the guys on the team were absolutely crushed, leading to half-hearted calls for Chris Holtmann to be shot into the sun before attention turned back to the quarterback battle in spring football. That’s how it ended. How did it start?

The COVID cancellation was a blow to OSU. They finished 8th on KenPom in 2020, a weird roller coaster season where they looked absolutely dominant before going into a tailspin during B1G season. They righted the ship, and looked like a team that might make some noise. What noise, of course, would be up to our imagination. But even with losing the Wessons, 2021 looked bright.

And then...D.J. Carton, a big point guard recruit who looked great before leaving the team with mental health issues, decided to make that departure permanent and transferred to Marquette. Fellow top 50 recruit Alonzo Gaffney just straight up left and ended up at a JUCO in Florida. Luther Muhammad, who I thought was the ultimate Holtmann, decided he needed some space and went to Arizona State. The roster went from contender to chum pretty quickly.

The season rolled around and OSU looked, well, like a college version of Bill Simmons’ pu pu platter. Back when he blogged about sports, the pu pu platter was the label for the various assortment of average players who got lumped together for a star when he got traded. The Buckeyes went into this season testing what happens when your entire team is an odd assortment of mismatched appetizers.

Early season results were uninspired, as they struggled against heavyweights UMass-Lowell and Cleveland State. A listless loss to Purdue with E.J. Liddell down with mono really strengthened the theory that this team just wasn’t talented enough to win in the B1G.

The turning point, came, I believe, against Rutgers (as it does). The Buckeyes were absolutely getting boinked in that game, and were down 16 in the second half. They looked completely overmatched and I was ready to turn the page on this season. But then Myles Johnson got into foul trouble, and Jacob Young went out with an injury. The Buckeyes flipped it and won by twelve. It felt lucky, but the team followed up with decidedly non-lucky wins against Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, among many others.

Yes, we had the scintillating loss to Michigan followed by three more losses, then a fun (if stressful) conference tourney. Then, of course, the ultimate blessing from Oral Roberts to make us question our faith. Still, it was a really fun roller coaster of a season, and my spirits are high even with that rough loss at the end. So without further ado, let’s give out the awards for this year’s ultimate Pu Pu Platter team.

  • The Spare Rib: E.J. Liddell. A spare rib is always a safe option on the platter - even if it is tough, it will taste pretty good. But if done right, it’s the most tender and most flavorful bite on the menu. E.J. Liddell can sit on the elbow and make jump shots, and he will drop inside and rebound and post up. But at 6’7’’, he wasn’t going to really knock your socks off going against B1G centers. Unless, of course, he develops a killer three point shot that forces defenders into no win situations in guarding the pick and roll. Going into the Illinois game, Liddell was 3-18 from three. Then against Illinois, he went 4-7 and the rest of the season really punished big defenders who struggled to get out to guard him. That may have been the biggest reason the Buckeyes went from afterthought to contender this season.
  • The Beef on a Stick: Duane Washington Jr. Similar to the spare rib, but perhaps even more bipolar. A cold, greasy, dry beef on a stick is an unpleasant piece of gristle. But a tender, warm, well seasoned stick, maybe paired with a good soy dipping sauce? Pure beefy bliss. Duane Washington was at times difficult to watch - hero ball, long missed shots, and weirdly slow lanes to the rim. But when he was on? A scary proposition for the other team who makes shots inside and out, contested or not.
  • The Egg Roll: Kyle Young. The old reliable of the take out menu. Takeout egg rolls set a standard of uniformity across the country. Never disappointing, never scintillating, they just fill out your meal. You knew what you got with Kyle Young. He would guard and rebound and if teams didn’t pay attention to him he would score some points. After getting brained by Trevion Williams in the BTT, his absence on the plate came up in a big way against Oral Roberts.
  • The Crab Rangoon: C.J. Walker. What are you getting with a crab rangoon? Some sort of cream cheese in a wonton wrapper, deep fried. I you are lucky, you might even get some Krab, and if you are really, really lucky, you might get some crab. C.J. Walker was never bad for this team, and he was fairly reliable getting the ball up and around. But sometimes you would see a guy who could penetrate the lane, bother defenders, and scorch teams from deep. It never came together in a reliably great way, but it was also pretty reliably decent.
  • The Chicken Wing: Justice Sueing. Chicken wings always sound good in theory. They aren’t complicated, and a crispy piece of chicken with maybe a nice tangy sauce is always great. But much of the time, you get something flabby and bland. Justice Sueing was often, well, not that exciting. He looked the part, and can finish at the rim and away from it, but too often he seemed like an afterthought in the offense. But there was never a time when you thought playing Sueing was a bad idea. He could do a little bit of everything, and even carried the team when C.J. Walker was out for a spell. A do everything type of, er, wing.
  • The Pot Sticker: Zed Key. I don’t recall ever ordering pot stickers from a takeout place. But when I’ve had them, they’ve always been pretty good. Zed Key was an undersized center, a low-rated recruit, and for a minute I thought Chris Holtmann recruited him to work on his car. But even though he isn’t that tall and can’t shoot threes, he had no problems competing with the array of centers in the B1G and his finger guns on and-1s remain a legend. A salute to the pot sticker.
  • The Spring Roll: Justin Ahrens. A spring roll exists to provide one thing, a crunchy, light bite to compliment your meal. Justin Ahrens exists to shoot threes and do nothing else. This dude shot 10 free throws, 7 twos, and 127 threes this season. He does one thing, does it well, and provides the perfect compliment to this mismatched meal.