Key offensive players

Leading scorer Jae’Sean Tate returns and will be asked to handle the ball at times while remaining one of the nation’s top undersized post players. A healthy Keita Bates-Diop figures to be a massive boost to the offense, but the Buckeyes won’t do much without bigger years from Kam Williams and C.J. Jackson. Williams struggled as a junior, and Jackson came on late after transferring from a junior college in Florida. Both will have to be standouts. 

Key defensive players

Bates-Diop presents matchup problems for opponents — even allowing the Buckeyes to experiment with a “small” lineup that features him at center — and coach Chris Holtmann has mentioned that Bates-Diop can guard nearly every position. Sophomore center Micah Potter has trimmed down and bulked up in the hope he will be able to provide a more formidable physical presence. 

Secret weapon

As a freshman, Andre Wesson made his presence felt in subtle ways as Big Ten play progressed. Although he averaged only 2.3 points last season, he was 10 of 23 (43.5 percent) from three-point range in conference play and saw more than 13 minutes of playing time in nine of the final 13 Big Ten regular-season games. 

Biggest offseason move

The addition of graduate transfer Andrew Dakich could have the biggest immediate impact. During Dakich’s four years at Michigan, the Wolverines won six NCAA Tournament games, one Big Ten title and one Big Ten tournament championship. He brings a winning mentality to Ohio State and will provide much-needed depth at the point. Dakich won’t be asked to play 15-20 minutes per game, but he will have a significant impact. 

Pressure’s on …

Jackson, through no fault of his own. Projected to be the backup for JaQuan Lyle for the rest of his career, he outplayed Lyle as last season progressed and seized on a starting spot thanks to his willingness to accept coaching and always play hard. Now he’s the go-to point guard on a team that could struggle to score in Big Ten play, and he doesn’t have much of a safety net behind him. 

Key stretch

Starting on Thanksgiving, Ohio State probably will have six straight games against upper-level competition. The Buckeyes play three games in four days in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon, then come home to host Clemson in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Next up are the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin on Dec. 2 and a home game against Michigan two days later. That would test any team, much less one with as many unknowns as Ohio State. 

Stats that must change

Ohio State lost five games by a combined eight points last season. Its adjusted defensive efficiency, according to, was 99th in the nation — the worst in Thad Matta’s 13 years. The Buckeyes shot 68.2 percent from the free-throw line last year and had the fourth-worst turnover margin (-1.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.0) in the Big Ten. 

Bottom line

There is a reason that Holtmann ensured he had an eight-year contract from athletic director Gene Smith when he took the job. There is talent on this roster, some of it with elite potential, but the lack of guard depth is glaring. This team is one key injury from being forced to rely on walk-ons. There will be more fire from this year’s team, which should lead to at least one surprise upset win, but tough times lie ahead. 

Buckeyes go dancing if …

Bates-Diop is a first-team all-Big Ten player, the interior defense improves significantly, and C.J. Jackson plays out of his mind at the point for the entire season. 

Buckeyes suffer if …

Jackson can’t handle being the go-to guy at the point, Kam Williams’ shots don’t fall, and the amount of passion on the roster can’t overcome a lack of depth. 

Where do they end up?

16-15 overall, 6-12 and 12th in the Big Ten. 

— Adam Jardy