Ohio State men's basketball power rankings: No. 4 E.J. Liddell

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) throws down a dunk against Illinois Fighting Illini forward Kipper Nichols (2) during the 1st half of their game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on March 5, 2020. [Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch]

The 2020-21 men’s college basketball season is slated for November 25. It will mark 262 days since the Ohio State men’s basketball team last played a game, and until November 5 the plan was to open the season with three games in three days as part of the Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Instead, the same COVID-19 pandemic that forced the cancelation of the 2019-20 postseason has made the Buckeyes change their plans. They will no longer participate in the event and are now looking at all available options, multi-team event or otherwise, to get their season underway. The hope remains to play a 27-game season that will include 20 Big Ten games and lead into a conference and then NCAA Tournament amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In preparation for an unprecedented start to the season, The Dispatch is counting down with power rankings for each member of the Ohio State roster. They are designed to be an educated guess at which players will have the most significant on-court impact during the course of the entire season.

The series continues today with the No. 4 player in our rankings. Note: the rankings have been reflected to address the loss of Abel Porter, who was slotted to be No. 7 before he was announced as being unavailable for the season.

No. 4 – E.J. Liddell

Position: Forward

Class: Sophomore

Height/weight: 6 feet 7 / 240 pounds

Jersey number: 32

Background: One of the most accomplished prep players in Illinois history, Liddell is only the second player to earn the state’s Mr. Basketball honor twice (former Duke standout Jabari Parker is the other). Liddell helped lead Belleville West to back-to-back state titles and was named the metro area player of the decade by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As a senior, he averaged 20.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.8 blocks. According to the 247Sports.com composite rankings, he was the No. 1 prospect from Illinois, the No. 8 power forward in the nation and the overall No. 44 recruit.

He picked the Buckeyes after announcing a list of five final schools that also included Illinois, Kansas State, Missouri and Wisconsin.  

Need to know: Liddell is listed 20 pounds heavier and one inch taller than his freshman season. He served as a peer mentor in high school. Liddell was selected to both the Ball is Life All-American Game and the Iverson Classic after his senior season. Liddell is West’s all-time leader in points (2,508), rebounds (1,004) and blocks (500) and is third in assists (322). In the 105 years of West’s existence, he outscored the runner-up in school history by more than 500 points. He hates losing, whether it’s basketball, Monopoly or Uno.

2019-20 recap: The highly touted freshman entered camp with a puncher’s shot at winning a spot in the starting lineup, but an early ankle injury cost him about two weeks and relegated him to a reserve role. He would finish the season averaging 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game after playing in all 31 games.

Liddell announced himself on the national stage in a historic, 25-point win at North Carolina as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge when he scored in double figures for the first time and finished with 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks, one steal and an assist in only 16 minutes. Two of his three highest-scoring games came on the road against formidable frontcourts: Liddell had 14 points in a Dec. 15 loss at Minnesota and a season-high 17 in a loss at Iowa on Feb. 20.

He would again score 17 points in what felt like a statement game shortly thereafter. In his first game against the Illinois program that had recruited him so heavily, Liddell finished with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and added 11 rebounds for his first career double-double in an eight-point home win that was the second-to-last game of the season.

More:E.J. Liddell powers Ohio State to 71-63 win against Illinois

He also blocked 29 shots. That amounted to 6.6% of all two-point field goals attempted while he was on the court, which was the best mark on the team and No. 81 nationally according to KenPom.com.

2020-21 outlook: CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein named Liddell as one of 20 breakout players for the 2020-21 season, and it’s clear to see why. With Kaleb Wesson gone, the Buckeyes are in need of some consistent, dangerous low-post scoring options and Liddell fits the bill.

He showed last season that he could take over games for a few minutes at a time, and now he will start to see more of the offense flow through him. Ohio State will need him to be its primary low-post scorer, but he will also be asked to expand his game further from the basket. He showed a nice shooting touch from the elbow extended last season but was 5 for 26 (19.2%) from three-point range. He’ll need to improve there.

Conditioning will always be a little bit of a factor for Liddell, although he has made some strides in that category during the offseason.

Simply put, Liddell is primed for a breakout season. Now he just has to put it all together.

"On a consistent basis he’s going to need to be one of our better players on both ends," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said as the preseason got underway. "That means his game is going to have to continue to grow. He’s going to have to shoot more from the perimeter than he ever has. He’s obviously going to be utilized more through the post than he ever has.

"He’s got to continue to guard with more versatility than what he did last year, but he’s in better shape. He is more consistent in his effort than certainly what he was last year."

Additional reading:

E.J. Liddell impresses Wisconsin alumnus Vitto Brown

Who's new to the Buckeyes, part IV: E.J. Liddell

Previous power rankings:

No. 5 – Kyle Young

No. 6 – Seth Towns

No. 7 – Justin Ahrens

No. 8 – Musa Jallow

No. 9 – Ibrahima Diallo

No. 10 – Zed Key Jr.

No. 11 – Gene Brown III

No. 12 – Jimmy Sotos

No. 13 – Harrison Hookfin

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy