Wesson is key, but this year he has help

Adam Jardy
Ohio State men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Key offensive players

Like last season, it all starts with Kaleb Wesson, who will be the focal point. Look for him to showcase an expanded, more explosive game that turns heads in the NBA. But he’ll have more help this season. Freshmen D.J. Carton and E.J. Liddell should assume key roles, too, and vie for Big Ten freshman of the year honors.

Key defensive players

More depth means Andre Wesson won’t have to play in the post as much, but he can still defend multiple positions. Florida State transfer CJ Walker is what coach Chris Holtmann calls a “plus defender,” meaning he’s better than most.

Secret weapon

The offensive plans don’t typically run through Kyle Young, but the 6-foot-8, 205-pound junior finds ways to contribute by using his drive and athleticism to chip in around the rim. He’s one of the most accurate shooters in program history, and he’s fully healthy. Teams don’t plan for him, but he still works his way onto the box score.

Biggest offseason move

Carton figures to be the most exciting offensive player since D’Angelo Russell suited up for the Buckeyes. He’s not likely a one-and-done talent, but Carton’s style and explosiveness — he was voted the best dunker on the roster by his teammates — gives Holtmann a special talent. His addition alone makes Ohio State much more capable of pushing the ball in transition and playing at a faster pace.

Pressure’s on

Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. Both saw significant playing time as freshmen, but more is expected from each in a young backcourt. Muhammad’s defense will keep him on the floor, but his offense dropped off precipitously during the final third of last season. Washington took the second-most three-pointers a season ago but only connected on 30.6 percent of them. Both must learn to be more efficient offensively.

Key stretches

Two of the first three games are against Cincinnati and Villanova, providing stiff tests right away. The Buckeyes will host Indiana and then go to Michigan and Wisconsin during the first nine days of February, and they close league play with home games against Michigan and Illinois and a road game against Michigan State during an eight-day stretch.

Stats that must change

Ohio State finished 193rd nationally in turnover percentage last season. The Buckeyes finished 199th nationally in two-point field-goal percentage (49.7 percent), their worst national ranking since they were 304th nationally in 2003. In Big Ten play, they averaged 64.6 points per game, the second-worst mark in the league.

Bottom line

This is the most talented roster assembled at Ohio State since Russell’s lone year with the program, and the expectations have ramped up accordingly. The Buckeyes return six of their top eight scorers and add a freshman class with three top-50 recruits headlined by Carton and Liddell. The mix of battle-tested veterans and youthful talent has Holtmann’s team knocking at the door at the top of the Big Ten standings, but to get there it will need its seven combined first- or second-year scholarship players to mature quickly. If that happens, this could be a special season.

Buckeyes go dancing if …

Everyone remains healthy. The question isn’t whether the Buckeyes will reach the NCAA Tournament, but whether they can break through to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2013.

Buckeyes suffer if …

Kaleb Wesson picks up fouls at a high rate, the freshmen and sophomores don’t mature quickly enough and nobody develops into a consistent second scoring threat behind Wesson.

Where do they end up?

23-8 overall, 15-5 and second in the Big Ten, No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.


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