The Ohio State Buckeyes basketball team opens their 2019-20 season up tonight as they welcome in-state rival, the Cincinnati Bearcats, into the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. The Buckeyes are entering the third year of the Chris Holtmann era after he replaced perhaps the greatest coach in school history in Thad Matta.
The Holtmann hire has been a grand slam thus far. In each of his first two seasons at the helm, the team was expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. In each of those seasons, the Buckeyes exceeded regular-season expectations and made the NCAA Tournament, winning their first-round matchup each season, only to lose in the round of 32. The Sweet 16 should be a legitimate goal for this seasons’ team.
2019-20 Ohio State Buckeyes Basketball Preview
Recapping the 2018-19 Ohio State Buckeyes Basketball Team
Entering last season, the Ohio State Buckeyes were projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. This was understandable considering they lost the 2017-18 Big Ten player of the year, Keita Bates-Diop, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves. They also lost key contributors in Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, Andrew Dakich to graduation, and Micah Potter to the transfer market.
Second-year head coach Chris Holtmann had other ideas, however. After exceeding expectations in his first season and leading the Buckeyes to a first-round win in the NCAA Tournament, he was able to do the same with the 2018-19 squad.
The Buckeyes rode the wide shoulders of their mammoth center, Kaleb Wesson, to a middle of the road finish in the conference. The strength of the conference essentially earned them a berth in the NCAA Tournament as they finished the season with just a 20 and 15 record. The Buckeyes snuck in as an 11 seed and were matched up with the Iowa State Cyclones.
Ohio State controlled the matchup from the outset and hung on to win 62-59. They were promptly dispatched in the round of 32 by the third-seeded Houston Cougars.
The Buckeyes return nearly the entirety of their core from last season. Back is potential Big Ten player of the year Kaleb Wesson. He has slimmed down and has looked quicker and more athletic throughout the preseason with the hopes of staying out of foul trouble that has plagued him throughout his career to this point.
His older brother, Andre Wesson, also returns for his senior season and will be a big piece for the Buckeyes. The elder Wesson will be relied upon for leadership and hitting timely buckets as he did so often last season.
Kyle Young is also back for his junior season. He is exactly the kind of player teams need in order for them to be successful as he battles on the boards and gives maximum effort the entire time he’s on the floor.
They also return three-fourths of a very solid freshman class from last season. Luther Muhammad started at shooting guard for the majority of his freshman season. Coach Holtmann will look for a big leap from him. He showed flashes last season but struggled down the stretch. Muhammed is an excellent defender, and like Young, always has his motor revved.
Surprise scoring threat Duane Washington is back for his sophomore season also. He will look to continue to be a microwave on offense off the bench. Like Muhammed, he also hit a freshman wall and struggled down the stretch.
The silky left-handed shooting stroke of Justin Ahrens will be a major key this season. Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Buckeyes is outside shooting and Aherns specializes in perimeter shooting.
Perhaps the most athletic player on the roster, Musa Jallow, is back for his junior season. He really came on late in the season last year and had hoped to break out this year. However, he had arthroscopic surgery on his ankle and could be a redshirt candidate.
Ohio State lost both C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods to graduation. Jackson was the source of maddening play at times last season. But he also provided some big plays, big-time shots, experience, and leadership for a young team.
Woods was a graduate transfer who proved to be a very important piece early in the season. He was unguardable for the Buckeyes last year in their third game of the year, on the road, against the Creighton Blue Jays. He finished with a team-high 19 points and 4 assists as the Buckeyes got a very important win.
The Buckeyes also lost Jaedon Ledee to the transfer market. They had high hopes for the class of 2018 forward, but the Texas native decided to transfer closer to home and will suit up for the TCU Horned Frogs this season.
Chris Holtmann has his best recruiting class coming in since taking over at Ohio State. The Buckeyes recruiting class ranked 14th in the nation and first in the Big Ten according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings.
The gem of the class is point guard DJ Carton out of Iowa. The Buckeyes’ coaching staff and fans are expecting Carton to come in and be an All-Big Ten performer right from the outset. He is an explosive point guard who can score in bunches.
Not far behind him is Illinois native EJ Liddell. Liddell is an ultra-athletic forward who will likely man the four spot off of the bench and could see some time in the middle if the Buckeyes elect to go small. Carton and Liddell are the cornerstones of this class and are expected to contribute in a big way immediately.
Alonzo Gaffney, originally from Ohio, is the third-rated player in Buckeyes’ four-man class. Gaffney is oozing with potential. He has incredible size and length for his listed small forward position. He is nowhere near a finished product, however, and may take some time to adjust to the college game.
The final piece to the 2019 Ohio State recruiting class is seven-footer Ibrahima Diallo. Diallo is very raw as a player and has some work to do to be ready to contribute at the Big Ten level. However, the coaches love his physical tools and athletic ability.
Perhaps the biggest addition is that of transfer point guard CJ Walker. Walker sat out last season after transferring from Florida State and will likely be the Buckeyes’ starting point guard. Even though Ohio State lost Jackson and Woods, they expect to have better guard play this season.
Unlike in his first two seasons as the Buckeyes’ head coach, Holtmann, and the Buckeyes are projected to finish towards the top of the Big Ten. Ohio State has a really tough non-conference schedule this season, in addition to playing in one of the best conferences in America.
They open their season, tonight, against the Cincinnati Bearcats. They also play Villanova, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Kentucky in the non-conference. It’s safe to say that Ohio State will be tested early and will know what sort of team they have once the rigors of Big Ten play get going.
Playing that tough of a schedule will do nothing but help the team. Often times, under Thad Matta, they played a weak non-conference schedule. It wound up hurting the team in the long run as they weren’t battle-tested.
In order for the Ohio State Buckeyes basketball team to be successful this season, Kaleb Wesson has to stay out of foul trouble. Muhammed has to take a jump in his second season. Andre Wesson has to continue to be a steady leader. Lastly, Carton and Walker have to be the upgrades everyone expects them to be at the guard positions.
It is Sweet 16 or bust this season. The Buckeyes have the talent and coaching to get there. They just need to live up to expectations.
Season Prediction: 22-9, 14-6 in the Big Ten
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