Who will replace Kyle Young in the Ohio State lineup?
With Thursday’s news that Kyle Young will miss No. 5 Ohio State’s home game against Wisconsin on Friday night, the Buckeyes now find themselves in the position of needing to again find a replacement for a starter.
It’s the third time this season that coach Chris Holtmann has been in this position. Forward Andre Wesson suffered a fractured eye socket in the season opener and missed two games. He was replaced by guard Duane Washington Jr. in the starting lineup, and when Wesson returned to action he came off the bench until Washington suffered an injury to the cartilage around one of his ribs.
That cost Washington two games, and Wesson ascended back into the starting lineup in his place. Young, however, has started all 13 games this season before undergoing an appendectomy Sunday night. His status is “game-to-game,” Holtmann said Thursday.
So who fills in for the high-energy Young?
“We definitely have more depth than we had last year,” Holtmann said. “We do have more depth and balance this year. I’m interested to see how we respond to losing a guy like Kyle who does so much for your team offensively and defensively.
“We’ll see how we respond against a team where you have to be really committed, have a great understanding of how you want to play. A team like Wisconsin really tests that with you. We’ll see.”
Here’s a look at the three players who figure to see the biggest increases to their playing time, listed in order from most likely to start to least.
E.J. Liddell, freshman
If not for an injury that kept him out for roughly two weeks to start preseason camp, Liddell had a legitimate chance to open the season as the starter at Young’s power forward position. A proven low-post scorer in high school, Liddell has averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game off the bench for the Buckeyes.
Of the possible replacements, Liddell’s game is the most similar. He’s a natural power forward, and swapping him for Young would allow Holtmann to make the fewest overall changes around the position. Andre Wesson could stay at small forward with younger brother Kaleb Wesson manning the center position.
“I think it’s a situation where he’s probably looking at it and saying, ‘I’m excited about this opportunity,’ ” Holtmann said of Liddell. “He also probably doesn’t quite know what’s about to hit him with the amount of attention to detail that you have to play and the level of effort you have to play with in a league game. He’s learning that, as all of our freshmen are.”
Justin Ahrens, sophomore
Still working his way back into full form after herniating two discs in his back during a summer weightlifting session, Ahrens was brought up by Holtmann when it was suggested that Liddell would be the first option to replace Young. The sharpshooter who went off for 29 points in a win against Iowa last season has been battling freshman Alonzo Gaffney for the ninth spot in Holtmann’s rotation and has seen action in only nine games, averaging 3.1 points and shooting 36.0 percent (9 for 25) from three-point range in 11.8 minutes per appearance.
Inserting him into the game would allow the Buckeyes to move Andre Wesson to point guard and play Liddell at center when Kaleb Wesson needs a break.
“I think Justin will certainly see an opportunity, whether that’s at the wing or the forward or moving Andre around from the wing to the forward spot,” Holtmann said. “He’s getting closer to where he needs to get to. He’s put on some weight, and he’s practiced well, and his attitude has been really good. He’s been really, really engaged.
“I just think when a kid’s really engaged on the bench and he’s not playing, and he practices well, that’s going to pay off.”
Last season, Holtmann said similar things about Ahrens leading into his breakout game against the Hawkeyes.
Alonzo Gaffney, freshman
The ultra-athletic Gaffney has struggled to adapt to the physicality that is college basketball, and although he’s played in one more game than Ahrens he has seen 13 fewer minutes than the sophomore. In 10 appearances, Gaffney is averaging 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 9.3 minutes per appearance.
He fits a significantly different profile than Young – Gaffney is listed at 6-foot-9, 198 pounds – which would make a like-for-like swap unlikely. Plus, Holtmann said Thursday that Gaffney has been slowed by the flu this week, limiting his availability.
If he’s healthy enough, though, he figures to see some playing time.
Looking at lineups
Aside from Washington and Andre Wesson replacing each other, four Buckeyes have started each game this season: CJ Walker, Luther Muhammad, Young and Kaleb Wesson.
With Young unavailable, which of the three potential replacements has had the most success in a lineup featuring Walker, Muhammad and the Wesson brothers? Here’s a look:
Ahrens – This lineup appeared in just one game: the opener against Cincinnati. In 2:08, the lineup scored five points and allowed two.
Gaffney – In one appearance, this lineup scored five points and did not allow any in 1:06 against Morgan State.
Liddell – This lineup has appeared together in three games, totaling 8:47 of playing time. It has scored 15 points and allowed 15 while playing against Kent State, Kentucky and West Virginia.