Ohio State’s men’s basketball season is kicking into gear as football’s regular season comes to a close.
The calendar has flipped to December, the Ohio State football team has finished off its regular season with another win against Michigan and the postseason now awaits.
In other words, it’s the perfect time to catch up on where the No. 10 men’s basketball program sits as it prepares for a significant ramp-up in its opposition. In case you haven’t been paying attention, here are a few things to know about what we’ve seen from the 2019-20 Buckeyes through seven games.
1. This isn’t the same Kaleb Wesson
That’s a good thing on multiple fronts.
If you haven’t been watching this season, Wesson’s drastic physical changes border on shocking. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder on an offensively challenged team a season ago, Wesson shed nearly 40 pounds during the offseason with the hopes of being a more explosive, durable all-around player with an eye on playing his way into the NBA. Seven games into his junior season, the offseason work has paid off.
He’s again leading the team in scoring, but only at 12.7 points per game because he’s had significantly more offensive help compared to a season ago. He’s third on the team with 14 turnovers, he’s shooting 43.9 percent from the floor and 40.0 percent from three-point range while pulling down a team-high 9.3 rebounds per game.
Plus, he is averaging a team-best 25.0 minutes per game. He’s leaner, more mature and an improved defender as well. His overall play has moved Wesson into the No. 9 spot in the national player of the year rankings according to the advanced statistical website KenPom.com.
2. The schedule is about to change significantly.
The Buckeyes opened the season ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll, their first preseason ranking in five seasons. A season-opening win against Cincinnati raised some eyebrows, but they firmly shot into the top 10 with a 25-point rout of visiting No. 10 Villanova on Nov. 13.
It gave Ohio State two wins against top-50 teams in its first three games. Since then, the Buckeyes have done little to suggest they aren’t a top-10 team, but the level of competition has dropped significantly. Ohio State has reeled off home wins against Stetson, Purdue Fort Wayne, Kent State and Morgan State. Those teams are ranked Nos. 319, 215, 108 and 294 nationally, respectively, according to KenPom.com.
Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes have won those four games by an average of 31.5 points. Only the 19-point win against the Golden Flashes had any element of second-half suspense, and that was quickly erased with a 17-0 run.
Now it gets significantly more challenging starting Wednesday with a road game against No. 6 North Carolina as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Then it’s home to host a 6-1 Penn State team on Saturday before an eight-day break for finals leading into a road game against Minnesota on Dec. 15.
Southeast Missouri State completes the non-marquee portion of the schedule on Dec. 17, and the Buckeyes will finish the month against No. 9 Kentucky in Las Vegas on Dec. 21 and in Cleveland against West Virginia on Dec. 29.
Four of Ohio State’s seven December opponents are among the top 35 in the nation according to KenPom. Penn State and West Virginia could join North Carolina and Kentucky in the national rankings as soon as Monday.
So, yeah, this should be a telling month for where the Buckeyes actually stand.
3. D.J. Carton is the program’s most exciting freshman since D’Angelo Russell.
He is still learning to play the game at the appropriate pace, and he’s shown the ability to score in bunches if not across long stretches.
But there’s no denying that when the freshman point guard has the ball in his hands, every eye in the arena is focused on him with anticipatory excitement. Carton has routinely found himself on SportsCenter’s top 10 for his highlight-reel plays, be it an acrobatic, up-and-under layup that seems to defy gravity or a powerful, one-handed slam dunk that flies in the face of his 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame.
He’s averaging 10.4 points per game while coming off the bench and playing 22.3 minutes per game. Sometimes paired with Florida State transfer CJ Walker, now in his fourth year of college, or sometimes alone as the lone point guard on the court, Carton’s 20 assists are four shy of Walker’s for the team lead.
Those numbers are likely to only grow as the season progresses and his role increases. It should be a lot of fun.
4. Defensively, this is shaping up to be a special group.
The aforementioned caveats apply here. Ohio State’s last four games haven’t been against college basketball’s elite, but it has put up elite numbers through its first seven games.
The Buckeyes entered this week ranked No. 2 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency by allowing an average of 84.8 points per 100 possessions. The only team better than Ohio State to this point: Virginia, the reigning national champions, who allowed no team to score more than 55 points through seven games while holding three to less than 40 points and one to 26.
The Buckeyes haven’t been quite that stingy, and their numbers figure to fluctuate this month as the competition level increases, but there’s no denying that their overall length and athleticism across the board has improved from a season ago. Multiple opposing coaches have praised Ohio State’s players for their willingness to buy into coach Chris Holtmann’s defensive principles, and this team has shown a sense of pride in denying other teams’ primary game plans.
Sophomore guard Luther Muhammad remains the team’s go-to guy at that end, but senior Andre Wesson is growing into among the best perimeter defenders in the Big Ten after being slowed by a fractured right eye socket. Sophomore Duane Washington Jr., noted for his offense, has shown some growth on the defensive end as well, and Kaleb Wesson’s ball-screen defense has improved with his increased mobility this season.
5. It turns out that the Buckeyes can shoot the three.
One of the biggest talking points of the preseason concerned the new, deeper three-point line and how it might impact offenses across the country.
With the new line, the Buckeyes have thrived. They are shooting 39.7 percent from three this year, an increase from 34.1 percent a season ago. The No. 184 three-point shooting team in the nation a season ago is No. 25 this season and has multiple options.
Holtmann said Washington has been the team’s most consistent shooter since the start of the preseason, and he leads the way at 51.9 percent (14 for 27). He’s followed by Muhammad at 44.4 percent (8 for 18), Andre Wesson at 42.1 percent (8 for 19), Justin Ahrens at 41.2 percent (7 for 17), Kaleb Wesson at 40.0 percent (8 for 20) and Walker at 38.5 percent (5 for 13).
Among the six players who attempted 50 or more three-pointers a season ago, Muhammad was the most accurate at 37.5 percent. He would be seventh on this year’s team.