2022 In Review
It wasn’t a banner year in Columbus. Returning E.J. Liddell and much of the team that made it to a two seed in the tournament in 2021, the Buckeyes had some Expectations for 2022. Unfortunately, Seth Towns and Justice Sueing both missed almost the whole season, and several other Buckeyes missed time with injury. While they hit some highs, including a stirring win over Duke, they also had some real lows, including losing to Penn State in the first round of the B1G tourney. Malaki Branham emerged as a freshman, but even that was a double-edged sword, as he’s now on the Spurs. The relentless injuries made the team look pretty janky all season, and they once again flamed out in the second round of the tourney, which has brought some OSU football fans to start turning against coach Chris Holtmann.
OSU lost a whopping nine guys from last year’s team, including stalwart Kyle Young, three point specialist Justin Ahrens, and a pair of point guards in Meechie Johnson and Jamari Wheeler. That’s in addition to first round draft picks Liddell and Branham. The team will certainly be new this year, if nothing else.
PG Isaac Likekele, 6’5’’ Senior: Listen, I really don’t know if Likekele (pronounced sort of like “likely”) is going to play point guard this season. Or really, at all. But someone needs to play point guard, and the only other option looks to be Bruce Thornton, a true freshman. Holtmann has gone without traditional point guards before, and Likekele is a transfer from a legitimate program (Oklahoma State), and the only guy on the team with an assist rate that sort of looks like someone who likes to pass.
So I’ll pencil him in here, but feel free to call him a point forward or combo guard or whatever makes you happy. In any event, Likekele has the reputation of a reliable bully with a limited offensive game. He started 110 games at the other OSU, and was called “the heart and soul of the team,” which is usually code for guys that can’t shoot straight but are good enough in other areas to stay on the court.
SG Sean McNeil, 6’3’’ Senior: McNeil is a transfer from West Virginia, and is sort of the anti-Likekele. He doesn’t do anything but shoot, but he is pretty good at that. His 46/37/87 slash line is good, and it had better be good because outside shooting is probably the biggest question mark on this team. He’s not a Justin Ahrens clone, and shot a bunch of twos as well, but this team will be counting on him to launch from deep.
SF Tanner Holden, 6’6’’ Senior: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but a transfer will be counted on to play a big role for the Buckeyes. Holden comes from Wright State, where he was a high usage slasher who liked to attack the basket and get to the foul line. He’s likely to find that tougher sledding in the Big Ten, so the question is what he can provide for a team when he’s not the focal point of the offense. His outside shot has been serviceable, though he did shoot 45% from three as a freshman and he’s a good free throw shooter at around 80%, so maybe he can show some more pop from outside.
F Justice Sueing, 6’7’’ Senior: The biggest question mark on the team, Sueing finally returns after missing all but two games last season due to a groin injury. He was somewhat passive his first season with Ohio State, but displayed a versatile inside/outside game, shooting 36% from three and getting to the foul line. He was tapped to be the 1B to E.J. Liddell’s 1A last season, but never got off the ground. He is potentially a first team All-B1G player, and if he is the Buckeyes will have a pretty good team. If he isn’t that, then the Bucks will roll out with five decent starters and a bunch of freshmen.
C Zed Key, 6’8’’ Junior: Key is transitioning from youthful youngster to crafty veteran. He’s going to be the starter under the basket and play heavy minutes, mostly because the only other option is freshman Felix Okpara. He’s undersized, but is a willing rebounder and shot blocker. He’s never attempted a three. Key is a serviceable player, but I’m not sure his surrounding cast is the best fit, since of the five starters, four like to be near the basket. Figuring that out will be the challenge all season.
G/F Eugene Brown, 6’6’’ Junior: The only other returnee who played substantial minutes last season besides Zed Key, Brown is a bit of a cipher as a player. He’s a versatile defender and at the very least will sub in to guard guys. He seems to like shooting threes, but hasn’t been very good at making them. He has some ability to attack the rim and draw fouls, but can also be passive with the ball. Hard to predict he will give them much on offense, but he should be able to come in and play defense and rebound from multiple positions.
F Kalen Etzler, 6’8’’ Freshman: Six upperclassmen down, so let’s talk freshmen. Etzler is actually a redshirt freshman as he came in too skinny to play last year. He checked in at 158 on the 2021 composite, and profiles as a stretch four. A big man who can pull defenders out to the three point line would really help this team. Still, no one knows if he can play and contribute this season.
PG Bruce Thornton, 6’1’’ Freshman: The first of the true freshman, Thornton was a four star recruit and hit number 47 on the composite. As the only true point guard on the team, there is a chance for him to play a lot this season, and potentially even start. He’s a big strong kid who 247 said could play running back for the Buckeyes, so maybe he could get a few carries in against Michigan.
SG Roddy Gayle, 6’4’’ Freshman: Another true freshman, Gayle was 46th on the composite. He profiles as a walking bucket, and can score from anywhere on the court. He’s also perhaps the best athlete in the class. Given he does some of the same things as the guys ahead of him, he may not see as many minutes as Thornton but still seems likely to contribute.
C Felix Okpara, 6’11 Freshman: Yet another true freshman, Okpara was 62nd on the composite. He profiles as a guy who blocks shots and dunks, which is something we have yet to see under Holtmann at OSU. He will almost certainly get some minutes, because Zed Key is going to have to come out of the game here and there. The hope here is he doesn’t get stuffed into a trash can when he plays.
F Brice Sensabaugh, 6’6’’ Freshman: Hey, it’s a freshman, this time the 65th ranked one. Sensabaugh is built like a linebacker and along with Thornton and Likekele is a guy who seems like he could put you head first into a toilet. He was truly impressive in a Columbus summer league this year, and seems like a guy who could play multiple positions and score inside and out. But he’s also, you know, a freshman, and may not play much at all.
SG Bowen Hardman, 6’3’’ Freshman: Of the five true freshmen, Holtmann talks about four who could play right away. Hardman is the other one. At 310 on the composite, he’s miles behind the other guys and needs a year of weightlifting to get into B1G shape. While he figures to redshirt, he does have a sweet stroke and could potentially provide some three point shooting if no one else does.
MaximumSam: Man, I dunno. On one hand, I like the pieces here. Sueing could potentially be a star, and everyone else in the starting lineup could be very solid. If a couple freshmen can give them something, this could be a pretty strong team. On the other hand, this team has six freshmen and three transfers, and their best player missed all of last season. Chris Holtmann has shown the ability to put together a team, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they figure it out and contend for the B1G. But I also wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t figure it out and look like a bunch of guys who have never played together before. Mark me down for a season close to .500 in conference, and they fight and claw to get back into the tourney.
Inside the Hall: You have to credit Chris Holtmann for his successes in recruiting — especially after the losses of Branham and Liddell. The transfer additions give Ohio State experience and consistency. But who’s going to step up and be a consistent offensive option? That, along with starting a freshman point guard, is where it gets worrisome for Buckeyes fans. Justice Sueing and Zed Key will have to step into larger roles if Ohio State wants to keep the NCAA tournament streak alive in the Holtmann era.
Daily Hoosier: What do things look like in Columbus if this season goes off the rails? If say, the Buckeyes go 7-13 in the Big Ten, that would mean Holtmann is merely a .500 coach in the league over his last five seasons at OSU, with double-digit losses overall in each of those campaigns. Would the natives get restless? Do they even pay enough attention to basketball to care? Holtmann can of course survive a down season, but he can’t afford another mass exodus after it. This freshman class may not produce stars this year, but it needs to turn into the foundation of a bright future.
BTPowerhouse: With an unproven and untested roster that has not played together combined with a brutal schedule, what exactly is success in a year like this one? Is a losing record in conference play, or even overall, a distinct possibility? Does that mean breaking even or posting a winning record is success for a team like this?