Athlon projects Sweet Sixteen for Ohio State, big year for E.J. Liddell
A top-15 season, an All-American player and the first trip to the Sweet Sixteen since 2013 are what Athlon Sports projects for the 2021-22 Ohio State men’s basketball team.
In its annual preseason magazine, Athlon lists the Buckeyes as the No. 14 team in the nation. Led by third-year forward E.J. Liddell, who is projected as a second-team All-American, Athlon has Ohio State as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to No. 1 seed Texas.
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“Ohio State benefited from the return of Liddell but will scramble to replace guard Duane Washington,” the magazine says. “The Buckeyes will ride E.J. Liddell, Justice Sueing and bruising Kyle Young. But can Cedric Russell replace Duane Washington as a lead guard?”
The Buckeyes are projected to finish third in the Big Ten behind Michigan (1) and Purdue (2), one spot ahead of Illinois.
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“(Ohio State coach Chris) Holtmann admits there is “no doubt” that the Buckeyes now face the goal of finding a way to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and into the Sweet (Sixteen), so that appears to be the litmus test,” the magazine says. “It will be interesting to see if they also manage to truly contend for the Big Ten crown along the way.”
After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic and uncertainty of the 2020-21 basketball season, this regional edition of the annual preseason magazine features Ohio State’s Kyle Young on the cover below Michigan’s Eli Brooks and Michigan State’s Gabe Brown.
The last time Athlon published, Kaleb Wesson was the regional cover star with Xavier’s Naji Marshall, Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland and Dayton’s Obi Toppin also featured in smaller breakout boxes for the 2019-20 preview.
Although fifth-year player Young is on the cover, it’s Liddell who receives the most ink in the magazine. On a list of the top 100 players in the nation, he checks in at No. 9. Liddell is described as a “tough, physical” forward “who plays an inside-out game with the ability to post, drive and shoot from distance” while noting that he’ll slide to his more natural position at power forward after manning some time at center last year.
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That No. 9 ranking makes him one of four Big Ten players in the top 10 alongside Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn (4), Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis (5) and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey (10). He’s the only Ohio State player in the top 100, although one – Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler – is listed as the No. 3 perimeter defender in the nation. Both receive Big Ten superlatives: Liddell as player of the year and a first-team all-league pick, Wheeler as best defensive player.
Liddell is the only Ohio State player among the three five-man all-league teams.
The Buckeyes are one of seven Big Ten teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament, with Purdue and Illinois also projected to bow out in the Sweet Sixteen and Michigan in the Elite Eight.