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Ohio State Basketball: Buckeyes Team Preview and Season Prediction 2021-22

Justice Sueing, Ohio State Buckeyes Basketball

Justice Sueing and the Buckeyes are ranked No. 14 in Athlon Sports' Top 25 for the 2021-22 college basketball season

At the end of a 21-win season that included a run to the Big Ten Tournament finale, the only madness the Buckeyes experienced was the ignominy of losing a 2 vs. 15 matchup in the NCAA Tournament, albeit to an undervalued Oral Roberts squad.

The offseason that followed that disappointing finish included the exit of OSU's top backcourt tandem, as steady playmaker CJ Walker and leading scorer Duane Washington Jr. left eligibility on the table.

At first glance, it would appear that head coach Chris Holtmann is at a bit of a crossroads. However, a closer look indicates that the fifth-year OSU coach actually could be set up for his best season in Columbus. The Buckeyes are deep, experienced, athletic, strong on the interior and loaded on the wing. They will be led by power forward E.J. Liddell, a strong candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. Seniors Justice Sueing, Seth Towns and Kyle Young also are proven commodities who know how to win.

Meanwhile, talented transfers Jamari Wheeler and Cedric Russell figure into the immediate picture at guard. There's even more excitement for incoming swingman Malaki Branham, who some believe is the best prospect out of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary since a kid named LeBron James.

Even youngsters Meechie Johnson Jr. and Zed Key have shown they are rotation-ready after eye-opening freshman campaigns in 2020-21. Holtmann's task now is to sew it all together as OSU faces the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Xavier and a loaded Big Ten.

Related: College Basketball Top 25 for 2021-22

At a Glance

HEAD COACH: Chris Holtmann

2020-21 RECORD (BIG TEN): 21-10 (12-8)

2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Oral Roberts 75-72 in the first round

KEY LOSSES:
G Musa Jallow (2.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
G CJ Walker (9.5 ppg, 4.4 apg)
G Duane Washington Jr. (16.4 ppg, 2.9 apg)

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Frontcourt

The 6'7", 240-pound Liddell is a headache to defend and should thrive in a combo forward role now that Young has help down low in the form of 6'11" Joey Brunk, who transferred in from league rival Indiana. If Liddell is freed up, he likely will improve on last year's marks of 16.2 ppg and 27 made 3s. Still, he and Sueing are OSU's best low-post options.

Young is the glue for this team, especially since he's a willing defender and has a knack for making hustle plays at critical times. Key has nifty back-to-the-basket moves and should only improve defensively.

Musa Jallow transferred to Charlotte, and that could open a door for true freshman Kalen Etzler.

Backcourt

Washington had takeover ability and could get white-hot at times. His shotmaking and willingness to come to the fore will be missed. However, Russell connected on 40 percent of his attempts from behind the arc last season at Louisiana, and Branham also could prove to be a viable offensive option right away.

Sueing and Towns have size but are comfortable on the perimeter. Also, lefty Justin Ahrens, who started 18 games last year, has the ability to alter defenses with his long-range prowess. Sophomore Eugene Brown III also could find time on the floor.

The point guard slot previously held down by Walker is essentially up for grabs, but Wheeler should get the first crack, and Johnson, who can create his own shot, is the program's lead guard of the near future. Yet another option is Jimmy Sotos, an adept ball-handler.

Final Analysis

Holtmann admits there is "no doubt" that the Buckeyes now face the goal of finding a way to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and into the Sweet 16, so that appears to be the litmus test. It will be interesting to see if they also manage to truly contend for the Big Ten crown along the way.

That likely would require consistent or at least timely shooting from the outside to go with an offensive attack that can play power ball and spread the wealth to a variety of players. Wheeler and Russell don't have to be standouts, but their ability to adapt to the OSU system and fit into a deep roster will be vital.

Key, Johnson and Branham provide youthful energy and lots of flexibility. If Sueing and Towns become as reliable as Liddell and Young, this team should flourish.

Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
Big Ten Prediction: 3