Roles expanding for Jackson, Kaleb Wesson

Adam Jardy
Guard C.J. Jackson emerged as an offensive threat last season and averaged 12.6 points per game. He and center Kaleb Wesson will the Buckeyes' go-to players this season. [Fred Squillante/Dispatch]

Key offensive players

C.J. Jackson blossomed into a player with go-to capabilities last season and will be tasked with shouldering even more of a scoring load this year. The same goes for sophomore Kaleb Wesson, who has been asked to expand his game to the perimeter and become a more explosive, conditioned player. The offense will go as far as these two can carry it.

Key defensive players

Andre Wesson made a mark as a sophomore when he shut down Purdue’s Isaac Haas to help the Buckeyes pull off the comeback at Mackey Arena last year. His versatility should earn him key minutes and top matchup responsibilities. Freshman guard Luther Muhammad has done nothing to dispel the notion that he is a future member of the Big Ten’s all-defensive team.

Secret weapon

Duane Washington wasn’t a highly prized recruit and checked in at No. 168 nationally according to the composite rankings. That had no bearing on his mindset or approach to the game, however, and the Ohio State coaches are viewing the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native as a potential steal. He’s not afraid to take the big shot, and his outgoing personality has him in line for future leadership roles.

Biggest offseason move

All four freshmen will play pivotal roles as coach Chris Holtmann continues to shape the roster, but the addition of graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods will pay more immediate dividends. A big-bodied guard who will play significant minutes both on and off the ball, Woods has shown the ability to both score and find teammates during his career.

Pressure is on …

Freshman Jaedon LeDee. The top-rated recruit in the class according to ESPN, LeDee looks physically ready for Big Ten play but has faced a steep learning curve in adjusting to the Division I level. Likely ticketed for a spot at the end of the bench when camp began, he now suddenly slots in as the primary backup to center Kaleb Wesson.

Key stretches

Ohio State opens with a game at Cincinnati, home against a Purdue Fort Wayne team that beat Indiana by 20 on the road last year and then at Creighton, one of the nation’s toughest places to play. In the midst of Big Ten play, the Buckeyes will host Purdue before going to Nebraska and then Michigan in a seven-day stretch in late January.

Stats that must change

Multiple players are going to have to learn how to assume greater roles. The returning members on the roster shot 45.2 percent from the floor last year but only 32.3 percent from three. Musa Jallow, likely the most athletic player on the team, needs to be capable of more than 10.2 minutes per Big Ten game. Kaleb Wesson, an offensive focal point now, cannot average nearly three fouls per game.

Bottom line

Even playing at his best, there isn’t a player on Ohio State’s roster who figures to be a legitimate candidate for first-team all-conference honors. This has the markings of a solid, hard-nosed team lacking in elite, star potential. It’s entirely reasonable to expect this to be a step-back season for the Buckeyes, albeit one with a brighter future on the horizon.

Buckeyes go dancing if …

Kaleb Wesson proves capable of being a go-to guy, both freshmen guards shoulder significant roles and someone develops into a consistent player at one of the forward positions.

Buckeyes suffer if …

Nobody emerges as a reliable scoring threat behind Jackson and Kaleb Wesson, the freshmen aren’t ready for prime time and the Buckeyes carry offensive struggles to the defensive end.

Where they end up

17-14 overall, 10-10 and eighth in the Big Ten.