Wednesday marked roughly the halfway mark for Ohio State’s preseason. It was two weeks prior to the day when the Buckeyes will host Cedarville for an exhibition game at Value City Arena and three weeks before Cincinnati comes to town to officially kick off the season.
Coach Chris Holtmann, junior Kyle Young and sophomore Luther Muhammad spoke with the media before heading to the practice gym for practice No. 16, which was briefly open to reporters.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
Here are five takeaways from what was said and seen Wednesday afternoon.
1. Of the three injured players, E.J. Liddell is the furthest along.
A trio of players were unavailable to start the preseason: junior wing Musa Jallow, sophomore wing Justin Ahrens and freshman forward E.J. Liddell. Ahrens injured his back while weightlifting during the summer, while Jallow and Liddell were dealing with undisclosed lower leg injuries (Jallow’s is believed to be an ankle situation).
Ahrens and Liddell are back in action and trying to catch up with their conditioning, while Jallow’s status for the start of the season is now in question.
“E.J. is progressing well and getting in better shape,” Holtmann said. “He’s been involved in full practices here for a little under a week. Justin is involved in full contact and full practices. However, I think he’d be the first one to tell you that he is not what he was last year, certainly not what he was in the spring. He had a terrific spring. What percentage he’d be, I don’t know, but he’s clearly not physically at full strength.”
During practice, Ahrens looked slimmer than the last time he took the court.
Jallow is back to non-contact drills, and he showed his athleticism in layup drills with a few high-flying dunks and even won a team sprint drill.
“Musa overall is progressing, but I think time will really tell,” Holtmann said. “He’s involved in non-contact activities right now. It’s really an unknown right now as to what his availability will be at the start of the season. The wing position, after Andre (Wesson) we’re trying to figure out a little bit to be quite honest with you. We’re not going to rush him back. It’s not in his best interests. I think it’s a day to day thing with Musa. He’s not involved in contact. He’s not been able to be a part of full practices right now. When that’ll happen remains to be seen.”
2. The Buckeyes are practicing lineups using three guards.
This isn’t much of a shock given some of the lineups Holtmann has used during his first two seasons at Ohio State, but Muhammad said he’s spent time in lineups that have also included Florida State transfer CJ Walker and freshman D.J. Carton.
“Pretty much every day the team switches (lineups) a lot,” he said. “I play with them, I could say, every other day. I feel like it doesn’t matter what three guards are in the game, I feel like we’re all interchangeable and comfortable playing already with each other.”
Young said Carton and Walker will have the Buckeyes getting out in transition more.
“Those two, super-fast point guards, they’re able to push the ball up the court, get things moving,” he said. “That’s something we’ve tried to work on with our offense too is pace. It’s not necessarily go as fast as you can. You want to have good pace with your offense and be under control. That’s another thing we’re trying to focus on, eliminating turnovers as much as possible and going from there.”
Other guys with the freedom to push the ball include Duane Washington and Muhammad, Holtmann said.
3. Andre Wesson has been the best three-point shooter.
For his career, Ohio State’s lone scholarship senior is a 32.5 percent three-point shooter. Last year, Wesson shot 33.6 percent from deep, but Holtmann said he’s been the team’s most efficient three-point shooter so far.
“Numbers-wise through practice Andre Wesson is leading us in three-point field goal efficiency,” the coach said. “His numbers have been good and his shot selection has been really good as well. He’s right at 41 percent.”
4. Holtmann is keeping it simple.
An ongoing talking point around this year’s team is that, despite all the preseason hype that surrounds the Buckeyes, they have seven players who are either freshmen or sophomores on their roster. Ohio State was young last season but is even younger this year, which has forced Holtmann to adjust his preseason plans.
Compared to a year ago, he said, this year’s team is not as far along as far as installing the offensive and defensive plans. Holtmann has tried to keep things more basic so far, and the team’s “secret” scrimmage Sunday against Louisville is earlier in the calendar than last year’s similar scrimmage in order to give the coaches more time to adjust and correct their plans after seeing the Buckeyes play against another Division I team.
“Patience is going to be required on all of our parts, my part, our staff’s part, their part as players, probably our fans’ part, because there are going to be plenty of times where we’ll play at least two or three of our guys on the floor will be freshmen or sophomores,” Holtmann said.
5. Do you have a starting lineup in your mind? Holtmann said he doesn’t.
Let’s call a spade a spade and anoint three players as almost certainly starters against the Bearcats. Leading scorer and rebounder Kaleb Wesson is one, older brother Andre is another and Walker figures to be a third.
#Buckeyes sophomore Luther Muhammad on Kaleb Wesson's improved physical size: "He's been dunking on guys," he said with a smile.— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) October 16, 2019
Even if we assume that much, Holtmann said he’s really not sure what his starting lineup would look like right now. Going a step further, Holtmann said expectations and roles will be communicated to players in meetings, but those haven’t taken place yet.
“I don’t know right now the minutes and how they would be divvyed up,” he said. “I really don’t. I couldn’t tell you right now, I don’t have a definite starting five in my head. I just don’t at this point.”
As for Walker, he’s been described as a leader in nearly every interview session since last season ended. During practice, after Holtmann finished explaining a drill, Walker barked out, “Let’s make sure we execute! Let’s make sure we talk!”
Sounds like a captain.