Ohio State Buckeyes debut as top-10 team in 2021 'way-too-early' national hoops rankings
The bitter ending to a season of promise still lingers around the Ohio State men’s basketball program, but the first set of projections for next season predict big things for the Buckeyes.
According to a half-dozen “way-too-early” lists released in the immediate aftermath of Monday night’s national championship game between Baylor and Gonzaga, Ohio State figures to enter the 2021-22 season as a top-10 team — or higher, depending on which list you’re checking.
Of course, the usual qualifiers apply. First-team all-Big Ten selection E.J. Liddell has put his name into the NBA draft process but is retaining his eligibility, and the general assumption is that he will return for his junior year. The same thought for next year goes for leading scorer Duane Washington Jr., a third-team all-Big Ten pick who has not announced what his plans are for the coming months or next season, or senior Kyle Young, who could take advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility given to all players this season.
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Rankings could depend on E.J. Liddell, Duane Washington Jr. returning
Assuming Liddell and Washington return, USA Today lists the Buckeyes as the preseason No. 5 team in the nation and one spot behind Michigan.
“Either way, coach Chris Holtmann should have ample talent returning to contend for a Big Ten title and have a redemptive season,” Scott Gleeson wrote.
Jeff Goodman at WatchStadium.com goes three steps further. He has Ohio State as the preseason No. 2 team, behind only this year’s national runner-up Gonzaga. His rankings make no mention of the Buckeyes landing Penn State senior transfer guard Jamari Wheeler, who figures to help fill some of the void left by CJ Walker.
“As long as Liddell and Washington return to Columbus, this is a group that should be among the preseason favorites,” Goodman wrote. “(Holtmann) also has no shortage of veterans that were a part of a team that earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tourney.”
ESPN ranks the Buckeyes fourth in the nation and second in the Big Ten, one spot behind Purdue. Jeff Borzello projects a starting lineup of Wheeler, Washington, Justice Sueing, Liddell and Zed Key.
Improving on defense should help Ohio State basketball
He sees the biggest impediment to Ohio State’s chances for success as its defensive struggles from a season ago. The addition of Wheeler will help address that.
“Ohio State was one of the best offensive teams in the country this past season, but its defense was lacking,” he wrote. “The Buckeyes were 10th in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency and allowed eight of their final 10 opponents to score more than one point per possession. That needs to change.”
CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish has the Buckeyes at No. 6 in his rankings, which is tops in the Big Ten. Andy Katz at NCAA.com has Ohio State at No. 7, behind Big Ten brethren Michigan (No. 2) and Purdue (No. 6).
“Duane Washington Jr. will be even more of a stat stuffer,” Katz wrote.
The Buckeyes are No. 10 in a top-22 list compiled by 247Sports.com, which lists Young as a player to “keep an eye on” regarding his status for next year.
“Should Young return, as we expect him to, Ohio State would return four of its top five players in minutes played from a team that landed a No. 2 seed,” Kevin Flaherty wrote. “That — along with the addition of Penn State point guard Jamari Wheeler and a potential impact wing in Malaki Branham, the No. 29 overall player in the 247Sports Composite — could mean that this ranking is too low.”
The Buckeyes are third in the Big Ten behind Michigan (No. 2) and Purdue (No. 4).