An updated roster card will come in handy when the 2020-21 men’s basketball season gets underway for Ohio State.
Whenever that date arrives, the Buckeyes will field a team laden with experienced upperclassmen. It’s just that many of them will be new to the Buckeyes, who have ensured a major level of roster turnover as coach Chris Holtmann prepares for his fourth season with the program.
Already through the door are two players transferring out and two more exploring their professional options. Replacing them are two traditional freshmen, one graduate transfer with immediate eligibility, another with two years still to play and one more who will sit out the season to satisfy NCAA rules.
It’s a lot to keep track of. In spite of all of that, Holtmann isn’t sounding the alarm even as he entered the murkiest offseason in the history of the program. Instead, he’s ringing the bell.
"I feel as good about this roster leading into the offseason as I’ve felt in any offseason," he said during an end-of-season teleconference in April. "I just feel really good about the young guys, our older guys, their leadership. I feel as good as I’ve felt as a head coach heading into the offseason about the collection of guys that we’ve added and that we have on our roster."
Finding the blend
There’s no disputing that many of the faces who will assume key roles this season have proven their chops at a high level. Seth Towns, the Northland High School product, was the Ivy League player of the year as a sophomore before missing the past two seasons with injuries.
Abel Porter averaged 25.7 minutes while starting every game for a Utah State team that won the Mountain West tournament and is ticketed for a backup role at the point, perhaps similar to what Andrew Dakich assumed during Holtmann’s first season.
Both incoming freshmen will have legitimate opportunities to play, with Zed Key slated to immediately factor into the rotation at center. Then there’s Justice Sueing, who was Cal’s leading scorer two seasons ago before transferring to Ohio State and sitting out last season due to NCAA rules.
Porter has played 79 career college games, Sueing has 62 and Towns 55. Of the 12 scholarship players eligible to play this season, six have at least three years of experience on a Division I roster and three have four years of experience.
Those dozen players have an average of 2.3 years spent on a college roster. Comparatively, last year’s 12 available scholarship players had two players with three years’ experience, none with four and an average of 1.3 years’ experience.
Presuming they are healthy, Towns and Sueing are potential starters, while Porter will play important minutes. Plus, wing Musa Jallow, who took a medical redshirt last season and will be a fourth-year junior, is expected to be back and at full strength.
Those are three players with significant experience who did not play a minute for the Buckeyes last season.
"We’re going to have to hit the ground running as soon as we can get together in terms of our ability to connect as a group and figure out each other’s strengths," Holtmann said. "We’ll have to get to that early. It’s a concern for us, like I’m sure it is with every coach."
Bring on the wings
Any discussion with Holtmann on the current state of the college game almost invariably elicits a mention of position-less basketball. It’s a concept that, as the Buckeyes prepare for life without Kaleb Wesson, could prove crucial to the team’s success next season.
There are a few players who are cemented into one or two positions. CJ Walker, Duane Washington Jr. and Porter are guards. Ibrahima Diallo is a center. Key, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young will be at power forward or center. Otherwise, there are five players who could slot in somewhere in between, with the potential of overlap.
Justin Ahrens, Gene Brown, Jallow, Sueing and Towns all are best classified as wings. Sueing, Towns and Jallow could conceivably play anywhere but point guard and center, depending on the matchup, giving the Buckeyes a slew of players standing 6 feet 5 or taller stretching from the backcourt into the paint.
It should give the Buckeyes the ability to switch on screens at multiple positions and help create some offensive mismatches. And it likely means multiple players will log minutes at multiple spots.
Guards can play
Washington made a joke last season about the stern look Holtmann would throw his way after a poor sequence. He likened it to the coach "staring through his soul."
Those looks likely will remain on the table, but there’s no denying that Washington and his backcourt counterparts will have longer leashes when it comes to playing time this season. He and Walker enter the season as the unquestioned starters at the guard spots, and aside from Porter there’s no true backup for either.
Jallow occasionally has played significant minutes at shooting guard. Brown was a four-star prospect at the position. Can Sueing handle some guard duties? Towns? In the event of foul trouble or an injury, they might have to.
Look for an expanded role for Washington.
"There’s a lot of room for growth there for him, but we’ve got to pull it out of him," Holtmann said. "He played a very big role for us late, and I know that will continue and it actually will increase."