Chris Holtmann comes into this season with something new, pressure. After a series of good but not great seasons, fans were getting a bit impatient. The 2022 edition of the Buckeyes started off familiar - a good squad that dropped some tough games to Duke and San Diego State, but looked prime for another NCAA berth. Then the bottom fell out in Big Ten play and they finished with a losing season for the first time under their head coach. The fans have gotten more impatient, the AD has issued his vote of confidence, and there is no doubt that another craptacular year could lead to a change at the top.
The Buckeyes lose a lot. Justice Sueing, Sean McNeil, and Isaac Likekele finally used up their eligibility. Tanner Holden transferred back to Wright State, while Gene Brown is heading to Georgia Southern. Brice Sensabaugh turned his freshman season into a job for the Utah Jazz.
PG: Bruce Thornton was perhaps even better than Sensabaugh as a freshman last season, and this year will be the glue that holds everything together. He’s beefy and hard to move, he can shoot, and he’s heady making plays. He’s the easy choice for the team’s MVP. An Actually Good Point Guard has been pretty rare for Holtmann, so I am looking forward to how the team does with one.
SG: Roddy Gayle was another freshman last season, and played sparingly through most of the year. He did show a lot of energy on defense but seemed a little thin. He’d be an unknown but for the fact that he showed up for the Big Ten tourney when Sensabaugh was hurt, and went for 9, 15, and then 20 in their three games. He shot 43% from deep and if he can maintain something like that as a starter, the Buckeyes have something in their backcourt.
SF: Jamison Battle, formerly of the Gophers, took a ride on the transfer portal to Columbus. Battle was a real prize in 2022, where he showed the ability to score at multiple levels and rebound. He struggled with with injuries last season, and his efficiency dropped quite a bit, and he’s never been particularly great defensively. It’s tough to predict what he will look like when he’s not asked to score a bunch.
PF: Zed Key looked much improved to start the year as a real threat to score in the post and hoovering up rebounds. Then a lingering shoulder injury seemed to zap his energy and effectiveness, which was a large part of the OSU tailspin. He’s a senior and the clear Old Man on the team now, so I would expect him to play a lot of minutes. Still, I’m unclear about him playing power forward next to a center or if this will be a Edey/Trevion Williams situation.
C: Felix Okpara was yet another freshman who played minutes here and there, though showed some noticeable improvement down the stretch. He’s a real shot blocker, which is something else Holtmann hasn’t had much of, and his rebounding was fine. At times he showed some touch around the basket, so the potential for a real player to jump out is there, though we are still in uncertain mode. I remain concerned about he and Key playing together, though the other three starters are all great shooters, so that helps.
Evan Mahaffey, SF, Sophomore: Mahaffey is another intra-conference addition, as he comes over from Penn State amid the Shrewsberry Wreckage. I’m not sure if they are counting on him playing much this year, but he’s not a freshman. Honestly, the non-frosh depth for OSU is rough. Mahaffey played a bit for PSU last season and was mostly a nonfactor, though he profiled as an athletic wing who can give you a bit of everything.
Dale Bonner, CG, Sixth year senior: The transfer portal gives one more gift to the Buckeyes, this time the very veteran guard out of Baylor. There, he came off the bench to be a defensive pest, and he will probably do that at OSU too. He also should give them the ability to put two ball handlers on the court. Besides that, he is known for dressing himself on the floor.
Kalen Etzler, F, redshirt sophomore: Etzler is in his third year of the program, but redshirted one year, and played almost no minutes last year, so he’s still a big uncertainty. He was brought in as a stretch 4 type, so we’ll see if he can give them anything.
Scotty Middleton, SF: Ranked 51st on the ol’ composite, Middleton could see some minutes this year. He’s all arms and legs and looks like a natural defender. His offense may be rough, but he’s the kind of 3 and D guy that could develop into an NBA prospect if he can consistently shoot straight.
Taison Chatman, CG: Chatman ranks 41st on the composite and profiles as a bigger guard who still play the point. His shooting is a plus, and we also may seem him provide some depth this year.
Devin Royal, PF: Royal is a local product out of Pickerington, and ranks 50th among recruits. He is sort of a burly forward who can make shots. He could provide some depth this year, especially if he can make shots and Key and Okpara struggle to play together.
Austin Parks, C: Parks is the last freshman and the one least likely to play this season. 182nd on the composite, he seems more like a development project at center and I wouldn’t be shocked if he redshirts.
This team has some potential. If Roddy Gayle can pick up where he left off, the backcourt can be really good. Questions abound, most notably can they defend any wings and can Key and Okpara play on the same court at the same time. This is still a young team, with eight guys listed as freshmen or sophomores, but looks to be at least a more complete team than they were last year. As we say every year with Holtmann, the team looks pretty decent, but probably not special.