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B1G Basketball Previews 2023: Ohio State

Win or Die With Chris Holtmann

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
10/10 Agree: Losing to Northwestern Sucks
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last Year

Do you really want me to think about last year? Really? Fine, then. OSU started off the year just fine, with Brice Sensabaugh emerging as a microwave freshman. Then Zed Key got hurt and they went into the Hopeless Tailspin of Doom. They lost to Minnesota for Christ’s sake. It wasn’t until late in the season when they put together something that resembled success, going 5-2 over their last seven games. They finished 16-19 and missed the tournament for the first time under Chris Holtmann, who finds himself on shakier footing going into this season.

Happy Trails

Freshman Brice Sensabaugh rode some fabulous shooting to a spot with the Jazz. Justice Sueing finally called it a wrap. One year transfers Sean McNeil and Isaac Likekelele ran out of years. Tanner Holden transferred in from Wright State, saw the lay of the land, and transferred back. Eugene Brown transferred to Georgia Southern.


PG Bruce Thornton, 6’2’’ 2nd Year: Thornton was fabulous as a freshman last season, with a very steady demeanor and pretty reliable midrange game. His beefy frame made him hard to bother, and while he did go through a lull in B1G play (like everyone else), he turned it around by the end of the season. His responsibility jumps considerably this season as he goes from the freshman to wizened veteran - the biggest question is whether he can avoid another dip in B1G season and hopefully keep the rest of the team in line. Ohio State probably lives or dies through him.

SG Roddy Gayle, 6’4’’ 2nd Year: Gayle was a lightly used reserve for much of the season - he did bring some energy off the bench but that was mostly it. Then, with Brice Sensabaugh injured for the Big Ten Tourney, Gayle lit up the baskets and combined for 35 points in their last two games. Is that a flash in the pan or a sign of the future? Gayle was a top 50 recruit who shot 43% from three last season. With a much bigger green light, it isn’t crazy to expect a lot more points.

SF Jamison Battle, 6’7’’ 5th Year: Not sure if Battle will start here or at the four. There’s a good chance Scotty Middleton gets this spot, but Middleton is a freshman and we hate freshmen here. So, the former Gopher gets penciled into this spot. Battle escaped last place Minnesota to get to next to last place Ohio State, and brings with him at least the idea of a good scorer. Last season was injury filled and miserable, but the year before he scored 17 a game and shot 37% from three. His defense isn’t a strength, but he will give you some rebounding.

PF Zed Key, 6’8’’ 4th Year: Key looked like a real live player until a fateful shoulder injury against Purdue seemed to hobble him all season. He eventually shut it down once the Bucks fell hopelessly out of contention. Up to that point, he looked good, regularly scoring in double figures and hoovering up rebounds. I’m not sure he and Okpara can play together, so there is a possibility of a time split at center.

C Felix Okpara, 6’11 2nd Year: Okpara was yet another freshman last season who mostly played a few minutes a game in reserve for Key. He was raw but showed a soft touch around the basket. Most of his game is rebounding and protecting the rim. It’s the rim protection that OSU hasn’t had in some time and the main way he can get on the court. Holtmann has said they are committed to improving the defense this year, and he can help with that.


PG Dale Bonner, 6’2’’ 5th Year: Bonner is a Clevelander coming to the Buckeyes via Fairmont State and then Baylor. His main attributes are being a defensive pest and giving depth at the point guard position. If they are relying on him for points, they are in deep trouble.

SF Evan Mahaffey, 6’6’’ 2nd Year: Another intra-conference transfer, this time from the wreckage at Penn State. Originally a fringe four star prospect from Cincinnati, he played fewer than ten minutes a game last season wasn’t particularly impactful as a Nit freshman. He did make a reputation for being an athletic effort guy, which is always useful. He’s a sneaky pick to start at the three as well.

PF Kalen Etzler, 6’8’’ 3rd Year: Etzler is mostly an unknown who redshirted his first season and barely played last year. Once again, he has the reputation of a stretch four, but if he doesn’t give them anything this year, you have to think he’s done as a Buckeye.

SG Bowen Hardman, 6’3’’ 2nd Year: The last freshman last season and by far the least used last season, Hardman should get a few more minutes this year. He has the reputation of a sharpshooter, and in fact did shoot 50% from deep last year on 8 attempts. Just think what he could do with 800 attempts.

SF Scotty Middleton, 6’6’’ 1st Year: The first of four freshmen, Middleton was the 51st rated recruit on the ol’ composite. OSU has had two straight one and dones and if there is to be a third, it is probably Middleton. Unlike Malaki Branham and Brice Sensabaugh, Middleton is a defense first long wing who NBA types think can develop into a 3 And D Guy in the pros. This season he’s probably just giving them the D. He’s a candidate to start this season, as OSU is lacking experienced wings and Jamison Battle isn’t going to be a defensive stalwart.

SG Taison Chatman, 6’4’’ 1st Year: Chatman is OSU’s highest rated freshman at 39th. The book on him says he is a very solid if unspectacular player who can do everything well. There’s a good chance he gets some time at both guard spots and could also play the wing in smaller lineups because he can shoot and defend.

PF Devin Royal, 6’7’’ 1st Year: Local product Royal is 50th on the composite, and is another freshman who figures to get some minutes. He is more of a power forward who will bully his way to the rim, but also has a decent enough deep shot to stretch teams out. Given OSU’s uncertainty at the forward position, it’s not crazy to think he ends up starting at the four if Holtmann gets exacerbated with his lineups.

C Austin Parks 6’9’’ 1st Year: The last freshman is the most unlikely to play; Parks is 183rd on the composite and looks to be more of a development guy behind Key and Okpara. He is known for being skilled in the post and passing the ball, so it isn’t crazy to think he gets some time. Still, the depth chart suggests he will be a fringe player at best this season.

A Conversation With Our Writers

MaximumSam: All right, fellas, how are feeling about Your Ohio State Buckeyes?

WhiteSpeedReceiver: Enjoy Jamison Battle.

midreavus79: It’ll be interesting to see if the BTT run is a sign of things to come or the kind of blip perennial bottom feeders go through.

BoilerUp89: There is once again talent on the roster, but this is still a roster that is light on experience. Is Chris Holtmann a strong enough personality to weave all the incoming pieces together into a cohesive fabric? If he is, this is a team that should have enough talent to return to the NCAA tournament (although I think we are still talking just above the bubble). If Holtmann can’t keep everyone happy or struggles to bring the freshman along and it devolves into Jamison Battle trying to will the Buckeyes to wins on his own, then a repeat of last year could easily occur.

MaximumSam: Don’t be so optimistic. Let’s talk point guards.

BoilerUp89: I like Bruce Thornton at PG. His January and February slump coincided with the Buckeyes losing streak. But he was a freshman, his season long shooting numbers look good, and he was playing more consistent in the final 8 games of the season. Although I think Thornton is one more season away from being in contention for top PG in the B1G, I don’t think he’s too far off that mark now.

Dale Bonner offers some experience as the backup PG. He isn’t going to be the star of the show, but he isn’t going to be an issue either. Bonner is a distributor, not a scorer but doesn’t turn it over too much and he will grab some steals.

MaximumSam: Fair enough. I like Thornton a lot but I can’t disagree with any of that. Shooting guard?

BoilerUp89: Who is Roddy Gayle? The guy that went 9 or 11 from three in the Big Ten tournament? Or the guy that nobody paid any attention to in the previous 31 games where he shot 12 of 38 with sparse playing time? Probably somewhere in between. With more than a night to prepare for their next game, coaches aren’t going to sleep on Gayle when putting together the scouting report nearly as much as they were in the BTT. Gayle was a top 50 recruit, so perhaps it was just a slow start and he will progress with a year under his belt.

Gayle’s primary competition for the starting spot is another top 50 player in Taison Chatman. Chatman is a good shooter out of Minneapolis that doesn’t have the quite the athleticism of most top 50 recruits. Depending on how the rest of the roster shapes up Chatman might make more sense over Gayle as I think he’s a better complementary piece on an offense where SG is the fourth or fifth option.

MaximumSam: I like Gayle and I’m hoping he is more than a fourth or fifth option. He’s got a quick trigger and should reward Thornton or Key for gathering traffic. But I agree, he’s still officially Unknown and I’m not sure what to expect. Wings?

BoilerUp89: The biggest question mark. Probably starting either Scotty Middleton or Devin Royal, both of whom are top 60 true freshman recruits. The other likely backs up Jamison Battle. I’m not sure either is ready to step in and be a starter from day one, but the alternative options (discussed under PF/C) is probably a no go defensively. Middleton needs to work on his scoring (both jump shot and ability to drive to the hoop), but is more ready to defend the 3 at this level. Royal may be another tweener. Too slow to defend college threes, not quite tall enough to bang down low for rebounds against college fours. We’ve seen players have success in the Big Ten despite that profile, but don’t be shocked if he gets lost in the weeds while trying to figure things out this year.

Evan Mahaffey will likely start the year as the backup SF. If he doesn’t take a step forward from last season at Penn State, his role could get cut as rotations get tightened going into conference play.

MaximumSam: I listed Battle as the wing though I agree it is likely Middleton or Mahaffey are getting the majority of the minutes there. I think Royal is much more likely to be a four. Aren’t college fours just beefier wings anymore anyway? Speaking of fours...

BoilerUp89: Jamison Battle was an inefficient scorer for the Gophers last year. If he’s getting the same amount of possessions with the Buckeyes as he did with the Gophers last season, something has gone wrong. If you are a Buckeyes fan, you hope that surrounding him with more talent and offense weapons allows Battle to play his role rather than trying to be a superstar. Hopefully that sees his three point shooting numbers return to very good.

Middleton or Royal are the most likely backups for Battle, although Holtmann has also mentioned the possibility of playing Zed Key at the four alongside Okpara.

MaximumSam: Yes to all of that. I was suspect of Battle because the Buckeyes need to improve defensively and he ain’t the one. At his worst, he’s a gunner who can’t defend, the 3 and No D. But Holtmann has done a good job at getting guys to buy into their roles, so hopefully he gives them more of a stretch four look and pairs well with Key on the boards. Anyways, Zed Key?

BoilerUp89: Despite being a tad undersized at center, Zed Key is a good reliable center. He can score down low and has some ability to step out and take a three pointer. Key is an excellent rebounder and is perhaps best positioned to take a step forward in a league that has seen a ton of top centers leave after the last two seasons.

Felix Okpara had an up and down freshman year campaign. As a backup center, he performed just fine. Collecting a handful of rebounds and a basket or two while Key got a breather. When he took over starting duties though, he showed he wasn’t quite ready enough for that big of a role, but he seemed to gain confidence in his abilities rapidly posting a double-double in his sixth start of the year.

MaximumSam: I’d love to see Key have a full healthy season after Purdue chopped his shoulder last year. All right, let’s sum it up.

BoilerUp89: Ohio State will be in the running for a tournament bid late into the year. Although the non-conference offers a few good opportunities for decent wins, I don’t expect early season OSU to be ready to beat Alabama, Texas A&M or UCLA and wins over Santa Clara and West Virginia aren’t going to move the needle this season. I suspect that come Selection Sunday, Ohio State is going to be a hotly debated team. Inflated conference record (the schedule is a gift with Purdue, MSU, Illinois, Maryland, Northwestern, and Iowa single plays) but computer numbers hate them.

MaximumSam: That would be a change. Usually their record is crap but the computers love them. Last season really bit me and leaves me unconfident on what to expect this year. Still, Holtmann has a couple things he hasn’t had much of at Ohio State, a point guard and a shot blocker. On the other hand, he has exactly one guy who has played steady minutes for the team who isn’t a freshman or sophomore. If there is any magic left in his tank, now’s the time to use it. Gene Smith is retiring and the next athletic director isn’t going to care about his KenPom ranking if they miss the tournament again. The Book here says OSU finishes 20-10 and just gets into the tourney.