Ohio State slumped to 8–12 in the Big Ten last season after rolling to a 15–3 mark in Chris Holtmann’s debut campaign.
So was the season a big disappointment? Not exactly.
A 12–1 start that included a few quality wins opened the door to a return trip to the NCAA Tournament and a 20-win season for a team that was pegged to finish near the bottom of the conference standings.
That’s a credit to the teachings of Holtmann and his work with a plucky group that overcame a lack of high-level talent. Even with the loss of veteran guards C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods, the program outlook has brightened.
The Buckeyes have advanced to the NCAA Round of 32 in each of Holtmann’s first two seasons in Columbus, and the arrival of a topflight recruiting class portends more success on the horizon.
“I didn’t get into coaching at the highest level of college basketball to be fearful of expectations,” Holtmann says. “As quickly as we could, we wanted to get relevant as a program.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Chris Holtmann
2018-19 RECORD (BIG TEN): 20-15 (8-12)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Houston 74-59 in the second round
G C.J. Jackson (12.0 ppg, 3.5 apg)
F Jaedon LeDee (3.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
G Keyshawn Woods (8.1 ppg, 2.5 apg)
If the Buckeyes are to ascend this season, the OSU big men have to provide a steady presence, beginning with center Kaleb Wesson. He led the ’18-19 team in scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.9 rpg) as a sophomore and proved to be a difficult matchup. But he was also a liability at times; he was often plagued by foul trouble, and he missed three games due to suspension. Wesson flirted with a jump to the NBA but will return as a focal point of the offense.
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Meanwhile, Kaleb’s older brother, Andre Wesson, is a holdover from the Thad Matta era who arrived without much fanfare. Now he’s an invaluable senior who can fill in all the cracks in Holtmann’s system. Andre is a natural wing but can play inside if needed and can even initiate the offense. Ideally, he will start next to his brother and power forward Kyle Young, who missed time last season with a stress fracture in his right leg.
Freshman Alonzo Gaffney, a 6'9" mega-talent, is a future star at small forward — and the future may be arriving quickly. Strongman Jaedon LeDee left the program after just one year but shouldn’t be missed thanks to the arrival of freshman E.J. Liddell.
Along with Jackson and Woods, OSU will miss emotional leader Joey Lane, a walk-on who kept a young team upbeat last year. However, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Buckeyes will be capable of excelling on the perimeter.
Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. have matured from green to battled-tested and will handle the majority of the minutes at the 2-guard spot. Muhammad endured a late-season shooting slump but has the toughness and tenacity to overcome his weaknesses. Washington isn’t afraid of the big stage or big shot and could be ready to elevate to an All-Big Ten level.
The point guard position is intriguing with freshman phenom D.J. Carton expected to emerge but transfer CJ Walker also in the mix. Walker sat out last year after leaving Florida State and could have the inside track to open the campaign.
Returnees Musa Jallow and Justin Ahrens add valuable depth and bring different assets to the table — Jallow is an athlete and willing defender; Ahrens is a lefty bomber.
Holtmann has shown he can both coach and recruit with the best in the Big Ten, and he has enough firepower to chase a league title and return OSU to the NCAA Tournament.
Still, the Buckeyes will need to embrace the path of development, and Kaleb Wesson must play with the consistency and reliability that have eluded him thus far in his college career.
Postseason Prediction: Sweet 16
Big Ten Prediction: 3rd