It’s not exactly a secret that this year’s Ohio State men’s basketball team is lacking in length compared to last season. A big part of the success the Buckeyes enjoyed in coach Chris Holtmann’s first season was due to the size that Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate brought to the court, allowing them to frustrate opponents and guard multiple positions.
Eleven games into the 2018-19 season, No. 15 Ohio State has done a pretty good job of working with what physical attributes its players possess. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 21 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, which in the last five years is the second-best mark for the program behind only last year’s team.
But if there was one game they particularly struggled, it was (not coincidentally) the lone loss of the year: a 72-62 home loss to Syracuse, a game in which the Orange’s size and length clearly affected Ohio State on the offensive end. That’s going to happen when teams play Syracuse, which is tied for the tallest team in Division I.
The team tied with Syracuse? That would be UCLA, Ohio State’s opponent Saturday inside Chicago’s United Center as part of the CBSSports Classic. And yes, that is on Holtmann’s mind more than the fact that the Bruins will enter while riding a two-game losing streak.
“I think their length is terrific,” Holtmann said Thursday morning before the Buckeyes left town. “Big wings, obviously the big fella (Moses Brown) inside that’s (got a) 7-6 wingspan and then their wings and their point guard is big and their point guard is big and it’s 6-8, 6-9. I do anticipate that being a challenge for us and something we’re going to have to handle. We’ve talked a lot about our lack of length across the board, and we went into the season knowing that was going to be a bit of an issue and we’ve tried to continue to address it in recruiting. It’s going to be a challenge for us for sure.”
The size and length hasn’t helped the Bruins as much as might be expected this season. Just one of UCLA’s seven wins have come against a team ranked better than No. 200 nationally in KenPom, and the Bruins are No. 73 in adjusted defensive efficiency. They are allowing 73.0 points per game.
How that might affect the Buckeyes won’t be known until the game gets underway Saturday afternoon. Obviously they can’t get better between now and then, but Holtmann said there are keys to negating that disadvantage.
“You have to play smart,” he said. “You have to be able to hopefully play with a little bit of pace to where their size defensively hopefully isn’t much of a factor. Not aware of it to the point where you’re passive, but you have to be aware of how they can change shots. On the defensively glass that’s a concern for us. They’re a very good offensive rebounding team.”
Wesson, Young fine
Both Andre Wesson and Kyle Young are expected to be fully active for the UCLA game after taking some hard knocks during the last two games.
After having two teeth knocked out and a third one cracked in last Saturday’s win against Bucknell, Andre Wesson had a second day’s worth of dental work during Ohio State’s off day Wednesday and everything went well.
“It was a success,” Holtmann said. “He’s on the mend and doing fine. Unless something happens in practice (Thursday), he’s scheduled to play.”
Young, meanwhile, took a hard fall Tuesday against Youngstown State and was briefly shaken up. He airballed the ensuing free throw and only logged 15 minutes of playing time.
“He’s fine,” Holtmann said. “There will be times where, we started a different second-half lineup. That could be a lineup we look at moving forward as well. Some of that’s dependent on matchups, how teams are playing us. He took a hard fall.”
Ohio State and UCLA haven’t found each other recruiting many of the same players in recent history, but there has been some crossover. Ohio State freshman Duane Washington was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but spent his senior season playing for Chatsworth (California) Sierra Canyon.
“Once I moved out to L.A. they started getting involved in my recruitment,” he said. “They’re a very good school. It was a tough decision, but Ohio State was the place to be. I love the coaching staff here. I love everything about this school. I ended up calling all my coaches who recruited me to tell them thank you and went our separate ways.”
Bruins leading scorer Kris Wilkes, who is averaging 17.7 points per game, is a sophomore who hails from Indianapolis North Central. While being recruited, he had the Buckeyes in his top 11 at one point and was pursued heavily by Holtmann while he was at Butler.
“Kris is a guy who’s really developed and grown,” Holtmann said. “To his credit, UCLA’s credit, he has really grown in Steve’s system. He was a fantastic player in high school. We had him on campus quite a bit and recruited him. He’s a tremendous kid. Great family. I’m really happy for all his success. He’s one of the best players in the country.”