BASKETBALL

Here's what we learned on Ohio State basketball media day

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Seven tables were spread around the court inside the practice gym at Value City Arena. Once the official team photo was taken, each member of the 2022-23 Ohio State men’s basketball roster headed to his designated seat for the unofficial start to the season.

They were all there, from sixth-year forward Justice Sueing to freshman walk-on Colby Baumann. Mixed in between were five freshmen, three transfers and another walk-on to mix with a handful of returners from a team that finished 20-12 and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. For roughly 45 minutes, everyone was available for questions on everything from preseason predictions to their best story about third-year center Zed Key, who owns a T-shirt dubbing him “The Most Interesting Man In College Basketball.”

Once complete, coach Chris Holtmann took the podium to offer his thoughts on the preseason and what things might look like for what he introduced as “Team 124.”

Sep 26, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA; 	Ohio State men's basketball head coach Chris Holtmann speaks to media during media day.

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He also advised against reading too much into predictions for the season just yet.

“Preseason is talking season, but it’s really about the work, the quiet, lonely work here,” he said. “We’re excited to get started with that.”

It was a lot to process. Here are five early talking points from media day, which took place two days before the first practice of the season.

Can the Buckeyes play fast?

Tempo has not been associated much with Holtmann’s first five seasons at Ohio State. According to KenPom.com, the Buckeyes have finished no higher than No. 238 nationally when it comes to the pace at which they play. Now, factor in a team that will rely heavily upon four freshmen, including one at the point, and it would seem that more of the same is in the offing.

Sep 26, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA; The 2022-2023 Ohio State men's basketball team photo during media day.

Not so fast, apparently. Multiple players spoke about this team’s ability to play with a better pace than we’ve seen in years past, and a lot of that has to do with a roster that should have plenty of versatility as well as numerous players who can grab rebounds and push the ball up the court. Tanner Holden, Isaac Likekele, Gene Brown III and Sueing are all viewed as players who should be able to help ignite fast-break opportunities, while much of the offense will be initiated by freshman point guard Bruce Thornton, whom Holtmann described as “a man” despite his inexperience at this level.

Also worth noting: this will be the first year where associate head coach Jake Diebler will be in charge of the offense. That role had been filled by Ryan Pedon, now the head coach at Illinois State.

Versatility could help Ohio State defensively

It’s no secret that Ohio State’s struggles to stop teams from scoring has hampered its chances of putting together deep postseason runs in each of the last two seasons. After finishing top-25 in adjusted defensive efficiency during Holtmann’s first three seasons, the Buckeyes slipped to No. 82 for the 2020-21 season and No. 111 last year.

Clearly, the Buckeyes need improvement at that end of the court if they want to be more successful. To that end, multiple Buckeyes said they believe they have enough versatility this season that will allow them to be more dangerous when it comes to defending. Likekele said new assistant coach Jack Owens has been impressive with his approach while coaching that side of the court, and the hope is that there are more tools in place to allow Ohio State to be a better defensive team.

“We have not been good enough defensively and we were not good enough on the glass last year,” Holtmann said. “You combine those two things and there’s inevitably a ceiling. A little more athleticism, a little more versatility, a little more length at the rim, I think were all things we needed to address.”

It could also allow Ohio State to play some unorthodox lineups, with Likekele in the middle of it all.

“Isaac has the ability to play the 3 and we’ll have some small-ball lineups this year where we have some 6-5 and over positionless groups that I think Isaac will be a part of that for sure,” Holtmann said.

Justice Sueing facing big expectations

Fully healthy and ready to go, Sueing will be counted upon to be a key ingredient on this Ohio State team. An athletic wing who can rebound at a high level and who is elite at getting to the free-throw line, the sixth-year player will be tasked with a lot in his final season of college basketball.

Sep 26, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA; 	Ohio State men's basketball player Justice Sueing (14) speaks to media during media day.

“He’s anxious to get out there, he’s anxious to be healthy and he wants to stay healthy,” Holtmann said. “For a kid like him to have a whole season taken away from him with the exception of (two games), you really want it for him.”

Oh, and he’ll be a team captain. The players voted on them Sunday, and Holtmann inadvertently let it slip that he’ll be one of the choices.

“I have not told the players yet,” he said. “Can we just keep it in this room? Justice will be one.”

This will be Sueing’s second season as a team captain. Everyone will open the season with a clean bill of health.

Four Ohio State freshmen will play a lot

For Ohio State to have success this season, it will require a quartet of first-year players contributing at high levels.

“I think we have four freshmen that are all going to play a role on this group for sure,” Holtmann said. “Bruce, Roddy (Gayle), Brice (Sensabaugh) and Felix (Okpara) are all capable of helping this team and playing. They’ll go through some ups and downs and they’re going to go through some challenges but all four are gonna play. You’re going to see them a part of every game, for sure. I’m excited about the potential of that group.”

As Holtmann said, there are going to be growing pains when so much is asked of so many freshmen. Come back to a practice this season, Holtmann said, and odds are you’ll find him sitting on the bench with an arm around a freshman after a difficult session. A key phrase for the season: normalizing struggle.

Isaac Likekele, Bruce Thornton will share the court

Thornton is viewed as Ohio State’s primary point guard, both now and for the future. To help him acclimate, the Buckeyes brought in Likekele, a four-year contributor at Oklahoma State who can play multiple positions.

But to be clear: this won’t be a like-for-like substitution pattern.

“They will be on the floor together, for sure,” Holtmann said. “For us to be our best, they’re going to have to play together.”

When the Buckeyes played Egypt and Puerto Rico’s national teams while in the Bahamas, the two helped close out both wins by sharing important minutes down the stretch. That looks likely to be the case when the season gets underway.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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