2022-23 ITH Season Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes – Inside the Lobby

With the start of the college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be looking at the conference as a whole and Indiana’s roster over the next month.

Today, our team previews continue with Ohio State.

Previously: Northwest, Nebraska, Penn State, Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin

Aside from the 2019-20 season, which was cut short due to COVID-19, Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann has led the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tournament every year since being hired in 2017.

Not only did Ohio State compete at the top of the Big Ten under Holtmann, but the Buckeyes also finished in the top 20 three times in the nation. Despite that, Ohio State hasn’t landed a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen since 2013.

Last season, Ohio State was poised for another big year with the return of EJ Liddell — but it ended badly. The Buckeyes have lost five of their last seven, including losses to Nebraska and Maryland, as well as Penn State in the Big Ten tournament. Even though the Buckeyes made it to the NCAA Tournament, the end of the season was disappointing.

Going into the 2022-23 season, Ohio State is without four of its five starters from last season. The departures of Liddell and Malaki Branham to the NBA are the most notable. Liddell — an All-American who was a second-round NBA draft pick — averaged 19 points and eight rebounds last year.

Branham was named Big Ten Rookie of the Year last season after averaging nearly 14 points per game. Branham played in eight games where he scored 20+ points, all against conference opponents. Now, after losing his top two scorers, Chris Holtmann has had to surrender to the inevitable: high squad turnover.

6-foot-8, 255-pound big man Zed Key is the only returning starter and will give the Buckeyes a reliable low-post scorer. Without having to share the position with Liddell, Key will see many opportunities open to him. The junior averaged eight points and six boards last season.

A big question mark is 6-foot-6 forward Justice Sueing, entering his sixth season of college basketball. Sueing only played two games last year before suffering a season-ending abdominal injury. But the previous year, Sueing started all 31 games, averaged more than 10 points and led the team in steals. Sueing was a huge loss last year, but with Branham gone, he could be an even bigger addition this season if he can stick around.

With the transfer gate essentially becoming the 4th of July weekend of NBA free agency, Ohio State won’t have to completely rebuild. The Buckeyes added much-needed experience in West Virginia transfer Sean McNeil and Oklahoma State transfer Isaac Likekele. McNeil was an Indiana target in the transfer portal and played 89 games in three seasons with the Mountaineers. McNeil is a 38% 3-point shooter.

Likekele offers good defensive height at 6ft 5in, can rebound and handle the ball effectively. He won’t shoot much from the perimeter, but he’s a role player Holtmann has struggled to pass up. Most coaches would happily pick up a Swiss army knife that gives you seven points, six rebounds, and four assists per game.

Wright State transfer Tanner Holden is an underrated addition to Columbus. Holden averaged 20 points and seven rebounds on an NCAA Tournament team last season. It’s hard to see where the 6-foot-6 Holden will fit in, but a spot off the bench where he can provide points and leadership looks likely. Holden played 92 games in three seasons with the Raiders.

Ohio State will also host five freshmen, four of whom were in the top 100 in their class. The class was ranked as the eighth best in the nation and easily became Holtmann’s best race in Columbus. Of the five, only one is listed as the leader. That would be 6-foot-1 Georgia native Bruce Thornton, who was ranked 47th nationally by 247Sports.

The other freshmen will likely find time in the bench rotation, but 6-foot-11 center Felix Okpara will have to serve as the main backup forward. Okpara’s mechanics aren’t quite there yet, but you can’t teach size and athleticism.

At the end of the line : You have to credit Chris Holtmann for his recruiting successes – especially after the losses to Branham and Liddell. Transfer additions give the Ohio State experience and consistency. But who will step up and be a consistent offensive option? That, in addition to starting a freshman point guard, is where it gets worrisome for Buckeyes fans. Judge Sueing and Zed Key will have to take on bigger roles if Ohio State is to keep the NCAA tournament streak alive in the Holtmann era.

Quoteable: “I think we have four freshmen who are all going to play a role in this group for sure…Bruce (Thornton), Roddy (Gayle), Brice (Sensabaugh) and Felix (Okpara) are all capable of helping this team and play. They are going to go through ups and downs and they are going to face challenges but all four are going to play. You’re going to see them being a part of every game, that’s for sure. I am excited about the potential of this group. — Holtmann, regarding incoming freshmen, at Ohio State Media Day last month.

Filed in: 2022-23 Big Ten Preview, Ohio State Buckeyes


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