Even when things were going well for the Ohio State men’s basketball team a season ago, there was a constant level of concern among the coaching staff.
The Buckeyes were working with a limited roster, featuring just one go-to player in Kaleb Wesson, and the staff feared a reckoning would be coming as Big Ten play approached.
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Those concerns have largely been alleviated this year. The third-ranked Buckeyes bring a 9-0 record to Minnesota on Sunday thanks to a greater ability to mix and match their pieces. Compared to the same point a season ago, this year’s team has used more lineups for shorter amounts of time.
To wit: Ohio State has used 76 different five-player combinations this season comprised entirely of scholarship players despite holding a controlling lead for the majority of each game. Through nine games last season, that number was at 68, and those lineups spent more time on the court.
It’s not the only reason the Buckeyes entered the weekend as one of five remaining unbeaten teams nationally, but it’s undoubtedly a contributing factor. In coach Chris Holtmann’s third season, Ohio State is as challenging to prepare for as anyone in the nation.
“I think our depth is something that’s big for us this year, having a lot of guys, pretty much the whole team that can go out and play for you,” junior Kyle Young said. “I can see that being challenges for other teams, especially if they don’t have that.”
Since his arrival, Holtmann has preached his belief in recruiting athletes who can play and, most important, guard multiple positions. Having multiple players on the court with the ability to assume different positions depending on matchups or situations can stress opponents at both ends of the court.
It’s made an impact. Holtmann, though, is waiting for more data before drawing final conclusions.
“It’s been beneficial to us, no question,” Holtmann said. “As we talked about last year, our offense was pretty one-dimensional. Hopefully, the increase and some of the diversity in our lineup will affect that, but I don’t know if we’ll know that for sure here until we’re a month from now.”
Much of that centers around Wesson, whose slimmer physique has allowed him to play both on the block and around the three-point line. But the roster is littered with players who can man multiple positions, whether it’s Young switching between power forward and center or Duane Washington Jr. playing point guard, shooting guard or as the third guard in the starting lineup.
Arguably the best example is senior wing Andre Wesson, who typically is Holtmann’s first substitute off the bench in each half. Against North Carolina on Dec. 4, he replaced guard Luther Muhammad. Against Penn State three days later, he replaced Young.
Washington, a sophomore, said the Buckeyes have a greater ability to mix and match pieces because of a growing level of trust in one another.
“If I know Kyle calls out a screen on my right side, I’ve got to be able to trust him to be in his spot while (I’m) in my spot,” Washington said. “That goes on and off the court. To be able to switch 1-4 or have Kyle pick up a guard in transition because I’ve got to take the basket first; trusting each other and doing your job is the most important thing.”