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. 4: E.J. Liddell
Height/weight: 6 feet 6 / 236 pounds
Jersey number: 32
Background: A product of Belleville (Illinois) West, Liddell put together one of the most prolific prep careers in state history. He committed to the Buckeyes after narrowing his focus to a list that also included Illinois and Missouri and taking official visits to all three schools. A four-star prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, Liddell is the top recruit from Illinois, the No. 8 power forward in the nation and the overall No. 44 recruit.
2018-19 stats: As a high school senior, Liddell averaged 20.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.8 blocks while shooting 62.3 percent (274 for 440) from the field.
Need to know: While at West, Liddell was heavily involved in a mentorship program. Liddell is West’s all-time leader in points (2,508), rebounds (1,004) and blocks (500) and is third in assists (322). In the 104 years of West’s existence, he outscored the runner-up in school history by more than 500 points. He was selected to both the Ball is Life All-American Game and the Iverson Classic after his senior season. An intense competitor, Liddell told The Dispatch that he can’t stand to lose in anything including Monopoly. When told that playing Monopoly takes forever, he replied, “Yeah, it does, but I will play until I win.”
2018-19 recap: With seemingly everything accomplished during his junior season, Liddell and his teammates went out and did it again. After winning Illinois Mr. Basketball that year while leading the Maroons to a state championship, both awards were defended as Liddell became only the second player to be named Illinois Mr. Basketball twice. In following in the footsteps of Duke standout Jabari Parker, who now plays for the Washington Wizards, Liddell finished with 15 double-doubles on the season and had 24 points and 10 rebounds in the state title game.
2019-20 outlook: On a team with experience in the post, Liddell has a chance to grab a significant role from day one and run with it. The Buckeyes will lean on Kaleb Wesson at center and older brother Andre at small forward, but Liddell could seize the power forward spot while simultaneously going through the growing pains that afflict all freshmen. Junior Kyle Young is the closest to an incumbent starter at the position and has proven his grit and heart while battling injuries during his first two seasons, but Liddell arrives on campus as a polished low-post scorer who could immediately take some of the pressure off Kaleb Wesson in the paint.
The expectations have been somewhat altered by an unspecified lower-leg injury that limited him for the three weeks of preseason practice, robbing him of some crucial development time. But Liddell received some votes in the preseason media poll conducted jointly by The Dispatch and The Athletic for Big Ten freshman of the year, an honor that was won by teammate D.J. Carton.
“I’m sure at times it’s been frustrating for him because it hasn’t come as quickly, but he’s done a really good job scoring the ball,” coach Chris Holtmann said Oct. 16. “He’s got to rebound it better, but done a really good job scoring the ball for us. I’m just excited about his continual growth. He’s done some good things.”
If his scoring translates to the collegiate level (and all early indications are that it will), Liddell could be among the team’s leading scorers while spending time at both power forward and center. That could allow him to supplant Young as a starter, but either way, expect him to play significant minutes from day one.
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