The look ahead continues today for BT Powerhouse as we take a look at the Ohio State Buckeyes and the questions around that program headed into the 2022-23 season.
How do you replace nine players?
The Buckeyes return just 23 percent of minutes from last season. Gone are E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young, Malaki Branham, and Justin Ahrens, among several others. OSU is in a tough spot as a result with so many key players departing the program. Three of those players (Liddell, Young, and Branham) led the team in scoring with Jamari Wheeler also departing and post fifth highest scoring as well. Simply put, this team is going to be almost entirely a new roster for the most part this upcoming season.
First and foremost, Ohio State needs Justice Sueing to step up big time. He returns to Columbus for a sixth and final season after a 2021-22 season that saw his production hampered by injury. However, in his first season on the court for the Buckeyes, KenPom.com showed Sueing ranked among the top 20 in free-throw percentage, two-point field-goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, free-throw rate, fouls drawn per 40 minutes, and offensive rebounding percentage during league games. OSU absolutely needs him to be healthy and return to his 2021-22 output.
Zed Key at center will also be a key linchpin in returning minutes. Last season, Key started 23 of the 29 games and averaged 7.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and 19.8 mpg. He needs to improve his game, but Ohio State is likely to ask big minutes of him early on in the season and needs him to produce down low. However, behind him is freshman Felix Okpara who arrives as the No. 11 center in the nation in the Class of 2022. While Key will likely carry the bulk of minutes early in the season, Okpara may start to take more of them as the year progresses. However, even top talented bigs can struggle as freshman in the Big Ten and Okpara will likely find that the case, too.
Oklahoma State transfer Isaac Likekele is another important player for the Buckeyes this year as the “linebacker at point guard” joins the program. Likekele is a unique player with his ability to run the offense but guard any position on the court in a way that might remind some of Draymond Green, if not quite that level of skill. West Virginia transfer Sean McNeil should also help bolster what would otherwise be a young backcourt. The WVU shooting guard averaged 12.2 ppg for the Mountaineers last season in a tough Big 12 Conference.
What does success look like in 2022-23?
Ohio State has four players in the top-62 of the 2022 signing class, per the 247Sports composite rankings. However, that’s a lot of youth still to buoy a roster that is needing to replace nine departing players, most of the minutes from last season, and four of the top five scorers. When you are mixing in that kind of young talent with a lack of veterans who have playing experience together, things are more likely to get dicier than not when the season hits its tough points.
The Buckeyes face San Diego State, Duke, St. Francis, North Carolina, and possibly Arizona as well in the second round of the Maui Invitational. That’s a rough non-conference schedule. On top of that, in conference play OSU has double-plays against Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, and Iowa. Road games at Michigan and Indiana are no cupcake, either, though at least Wisconsin is a single play and comes to Columbus.
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?
By comparison, 2016-17 Michigan State was a similarly young team, but, while riddled with injuries, had several more returning players and struggled to a 20-15 record and 10-8 in Big Ten play. Is that the ceiling for this Buckeyes team rather than expecting a finish closer to .500 on the season overall? That will be a key question on the season that fans should have a better grasp of after the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. For now, ESPN projects OSU at a No. 10 seed in the big dance, but if things aren’t clicking early the Buckeyes might be playing to get onto the bubble when conference play heats up.
Does a rebuilding year put pressure on Chris Holtmann?
I’m not saying that Holtmann will be on a hot seat ranking at the end of this season, barring some kind of unknown scandal that’s ridiculous to assert. However, Holtmann was hired to return the Buckeyes to the success experienced at the peak of the Thad Matta era. To date, his high water mark in Big Ten play was his first season. Overall, he has earned a five seed or higher in the Big Ten Tournament just twice in his five seasons and never higher than third in the Big Ten standings.
As for the NCAA Tournament, Holtmann has yet to make it out of the second round. If things go off the rails due to lack of cohesion on this roster, does that lack of success start to draw fans’ attention in the wrong way? If there is similar attrition to the roster, particularly of the young talent brought in this year, or there is not evidence of progress late in the year for the 2023-24 season, it just might be time to be getting concerned about movement toward the hot seat label.