Ohio State will open its 2019-20 men's basketball season by hosting Cincinnati for the first time in nearly 98 years. The Buckeyes and Bearcats will meet Nov. 6 in Value City Arena, marking only the 12th time the in-state programs have met and the second time in as many years that they’ve played each other within state lines after having not done so since 1921. In preparation for the start of the season, The Dispatch is counting down with power rankings for each member of the Ohio State roster.
These rankings are an educated guess at which players will have the most significant on-court impact during the course of the season.
No. 11: Justin Ahrens
Height/weight: 6 feet 5 / 180 pounds
Jersey number: 10
Background: A native Ohioan, Ahrens hails from Versailles, where he became the school’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and assists. Known for his shooting ability, Ahrens is the second member of his family to play Division I basketball, following older brother Kyle at Michigan State. He was named co-Ohio Division III player of the year as both a junior and a senior. Ahrens committed to Ohio State to play for Thad Matta, then opted to reopen his recruitment when the coach was fired. He took an official visit to Michigan but ultimately opted to stick with his pledge to the Buckeyes. He was listed as a three-star prospect and the No. 254 national recruit according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
2018-19 stats: In 25 games, Ahrens averaged 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds while playing 9.6 minutes per appearance. He shot 38.8 percent (19 of 49) from three-point range for the season, with 17 of those makes coming while he shot 41.5 percent in Big Ten play.
Need to know: Ahrens is a longtime friend of Ohioan and Duke standout Luke Kennard and former AAU teammate Darius Bazley. He will turn 20 years old the day before the Buckeyes host Kent State at St. John Arena on Nov. 25. He has a twin brother, AJ, who also goes to Ohio State. In a poll conducted by The Dispatch, he was voted the best shooter on the team by his teammates.
2018-19 recap: Before the season, Ahrens, his parents and coach Chris Holtmann had one conversation about redshirting to better allow him to adapt to the speed and physicality of the collegiate level. Instead, they quickly decided that Ahrens would be best suited to earn whatever minutes he could and fully be a part of the team in hostile road environments. “Obviously I need to get quicker and stronger and I realize that, but I’m going to do anything it takes to help this team win,” he said at the time.
That meant a lot of sitting early as he saw no action in six of the first 10 games, totaling eight points in 30 minutes of playing time. His role gradually increased, but nothing foreshadowed what proved to be a breakout game the likes of which were unmatched in Ohio State history.
Ahrens went off for 29 points in a home win against Iowa on Feb. 26, tied for the sixth-best scoring performance by a freshman in school history. He went 6 for 10 from three-point range in what was his second consecutive start. Ahrens made 19 three-pointers for the year, and he was lightly used during postseason play.
2019-20 outlook: In the early portion of the offseason, Ahrens looked set to build on his strong close to the season and was impressing the coaching staff with his development both physically and on the court. Then a back injury suffered during a weightlifting session sidelined him for nearly two months, robbing him of a critical period for development. Ahrens did not participate during the early days of practice and is still working himself back to being the player that he was becoming prior to sustaining the injury.
The missed time will likely affect Ahrens well into the season, much like a missed summer after Andre Wesson's freshman year hampered him two years ago. The Buckeyes have added length and athleticism to their roster, but Ahrens remains their best bet for a lights-out shooter. If he can get his body right and in short order, his skill set will earn him a role in the rotation. A healthy Ahrens would be a significant boost to this Ohio State offense.
For incoming freshman Justin Ahrens, senior season in high school was about patience, versatility
Versailles rallies around Ahrens brothers before OSU, Michigan State showdown
Justin Ahrens shows his shooting touch with Ohio State