Chris Holtmann is as curious to see what this Ohio State team might look like as the rest of us. The coach said as much Wednesday afternoon, when he met with reporters to discuss Thursday’s exhibition game against UNC Pembroke that serves as the unofficial unveiling of the season.
“You had some knowns there with last year’s group,” Holtmann said. “Our concerns last year were backcourt depth and how we were going to handle pressure, but we had some knowns there, too, with guys that had produced. We have some this year, but we have a lot of questions we have to answer.”
This game won’t answer any of them. But it will start giving some answers to any number of questions about this year’s team. Here are five questions I’m curious to see answered:
1. How has Kaleb Wesson progressed as a three-point shooter?
There was a time last season when Holtmann joked about needing to physically restrain himself from blowing up at the freshman center for attempting three-pointers during games. That is long in the past, and Wesson is expected to use the outside jumper as a part of his overall game this season.
He’s still primarily going to make his living in the lane, but if Wesson can prove himself capable of knocking down threes, it would allow the Buckeyes to deploy lineups featuring five players who can all stretch the floor. With legitimate questions about how Ohio State will manufacture enough points to win games against elite teams, this would be a significant plus.
Will it work? We’ll get our first idea.
2. Where has Kyle Young improved?
It wasn’t the easiest of freshman seasons for Kyle Young, the forward who followed Holtmann from Butler to Ohio State but found himself stuck behind Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate on the depth chart. A power forward with strength and significant dunking ability, Young is penciled in as Bates-Diop’s replacement in the starting lineup and is expected to take a significant step forward this season.
What does that entail? Several players have singled Young out among the team’s most improved players from a season ago with many pointing to an increased confidence level as a primary reason. Holtmann has said he will be a core player during his four years at Ohio State and eventually a fan favorite for his gritty style of play, and during the preseason he cited Young’s rebounding ability as having been particularly impressive.
A good, long look at Young’s game will be an important bellwether for the season.
3. Which freshman is the best defender?
It’s the most important concept for a newcomer to grasp in order to earn playing time for Holtmann: How well can you defend? Not coincidentally, it’s also the area that typically requires the biggest learning curve from high school to college.
Luther Muhammad came to Ohio State with the reputation of someone who guards his man the second he gets off the bus. How will that start to translate to Division II athletes that he’ll see Thursday and, next week, Division I opponents? How have his classmates taken to Holtmann’s defensive principles?
This, more than anything, could determine the path of the season.
4. Who looks like an offensive player?
At the other end of the court, Ohio State should have reliable scoring options in senior guard C.J. Jackson and Wesson, a sophomore. After that, the question of who might become the third legitimate scoring threat is a big one.
Is it Keyshawn Woods, who at times has scored at a high level during his career before joining the Buckeyes as a graduate transfer? What about Andre Wesson, who seems mature, assured and ready to assume a significantly bigger offensive role? Could it be Micah Potter, exploiting pick-and-roll situations with his size and shooting touch? Or maybe one of the freshman, perhaps the ultra-confident Duane Washington?
Several players will have to step up offensively.
5. Does anyone take the reins?
When things got tough last season, Ohio State knew who to turn to. Bates-Diop and Tate had been through the battles and commanded the team’s respect in adverse situations. That much was expected when the year began.
Now it’s someone else’s turn. The problem with needing to learn who can be counted upon in trying times is that there’s no real way to simulate that in practice. Jackson and Andre Wesson were the team’s two representatives at Big Ten media day, a role that usually implies leadership responsibilities for the Buckeyes. Woods has been through the battles in the ACC.
If or when Pembroke puts together an 8-0 run, who steps up to ensure that it doesn’t balloon from there? Who can settle a young roster when three of five offensive possessions result in turnovers? Who makes a big shot should the game be in doubt in the closing minutes?
Let’s start to get some answers.