Three-guard lineups appeal to Holtmann

Adam Jardy
ajardy@dispatch.com
Freshman Luther Muhammad was part of the guard-heavy lineup that Ohio State used against Cincinnati on Wednesday. [Adam Cairns]

The evolution of high-level basketball has started to take root at Ohio State.

After his first season coaching the Buckeyes, Chris Holtmann was discussing 2018 national champion Villanova and its free-flowing offense that prizes versatility above all else. The way the Wildcats play, he said, was something to be valued and emulated if possible.

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“I want to add as many versatile pieces as possible — offensively and defensively,” he said in April. “Guys that can play multiple positions.”

That has meant a mission for center Kaleb Wesson to improve his perimeter game, something he showed Wednesday in a season-opening win at Cincinnati. But the more-pronounced effect on the Ohio State rotation as it enters its home opener Sunday against Purdue Fort Wayne has been in the backcourt, where Holtmann extensively deployed guard-heavy lineups against the Bearcats and figures to continue to do so.

The Buckeyes have four recruited scholarship players who would be classified as guards: graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods, senior C.J. Jackson and freshmen Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. In a 40-minute game, Ohio State used a lineup that contained three of those four players for 28:26, almost 75 percent.

Holtmann said he was just looking for his best ball handlers and shooters but added, “I expect that we’ll play three-guard lineups for a good part of the year.” On Friday, as the Buckeyes got back to practice, he said the lineups are a reflection of the effort to simply get his best players on the court as much as possible.

And yes, that group includes two freshmen — for now, at least.

“That can change, too,” he said. “We could look and this guy could be playing better (than someone else). It’s not a statement that I would say right now because we’re playing three guards that’s our (best). The starting lineup will be fluid throughout the season, and I think the rotation will be fairly fluid throughout the season. That’s definitely different than it was last year.”

The lineups have meant players such as sophomore Musa Jallow and junior Andre Wesson, who saw playing time at shooting guard and small forward last season, respectively, logged some minutes at power forward.

“We’ve got a bunch of versatile pieces that can play a lot of different positions,” Andre Wesson said. “Me and Moose, going into the season we knew that with some of the losses we had that we were going to have to play more of the 4 and some different roles. It’s something we’ve got to adjust to and pick up.”

Holtmann primarily used two lineups against Cincinnati: his starting group, which consisted of Jackson, Muhammad, Kyle Young and the Wesson brothers, and the same group with Woods in place of Andre Wesson. The starters were on the court for 9:02, just one second longer than the second group.

The rotation was affected somewhat by the loss of Micah Potter, who announced his decision to transfer from the program two days before the opener, “but we had went into the season thinking we could play (that way),” Holtmann said. “Plenty of teams play four guards, three guards, whatever you want to look at it.”

Count Ohio State among them now.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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