With roster set, here are 13 quick thoughts on Ohio State's 13 players for 2023-24
The transfer portal will remain open for a while, but Ohio State’s work for this year is done.
When the Buckeyes accepted a commitment from Penn State transfer Evan Mahaffey earlier this week, it earmarked the 13th and final roster spot to the Cincinnati Moeller product and gave coach Chris Holtmann a finalized roster for the 2023-24 season. After going 16-19 and missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2016-17 season, Ohio State will return six scholarship players and add four freshmen and three transfers as Holtmann begins his seventh season with the program.
How those pieces will all fit together will be worked out in the coming months once the Buckeyes assemble the full roster on campus in June and begin the process of preparing for the season. For now, here’s a thought on each one of Ohio State’s 13 scholarship players for the upcoming season.
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What kind of scoring load can Jamison Battle handle?
With Brice Sensabaugh ticketed for the NBA, Ohio State added Minnesota graduate transfer Jamison Battle via the portal. A prolific scorer in two seasons with the Golden Gophers, Battle averaged 15.1 points while shooting 33.9% from 3-point range on 7.1 attempts per game. But after scoring 17.5 points while shooting 36.6% from deep and 45.0% from the floor, Battle’s numbers dropped to 12.4, 31.1% and 37.1%, respectively, last season.
Sometimes a change of scenery can help a player bounce back. Battle won’t be counted on to lead Ohio State in scoring or to carry such a heavy offensive load like he did on Minnesota teams that went a combined 22-39, but it’s clear the Buckeyes will need him to produce consistently from his forward spot as first-year players Scotty Middleton and Devin Royal acclimate to the level.
What does the learning curve look like for Taison Chatman?
In its final 2023 rankings, 247Sports.com listed Taison Chatman as the highest-ranked member of Ohio State’s four-man class. The four-star combo guard sits at No. 31 nationally, ahead of where Roddy Gayle (No. 50) and Bruce Thornton (54) finished in the 2022 rankings. Both Gayle and Thornton endured some freshman hiccups only to end their seasons with momentum for breakout second years at Ohio State.
A guard who is projected to be able to both score and be a primary ballhandler in college, Chatman will immediately figure prominently into the backcourt. How much can he handle and how quickly?
Can Dale Bonner allow Ohio State to play with more versatility?
It’s been a talking point for the last few seasons, the desire for the Buckeyes to figure out ways to use multi-positional, two-way players to create mismatches and win games. Listed at 6-2, 170 pounds, Bonner projects as a point or shooting guard and little else, but his experience and defensive abilities are likely to help allow Ohio State utilize more three-guard lineups. Bonner, who spent the last two seasons as part of talented backcourts at Baylor, will likely play behind second-year returners Roddy Gayle and Bruce Thornton.
But he’ll also likely play alongside them, as well as first-year guard Taison Chatman. If it works, it will give Ohio State mismatch options at both ends of the floor.
Are Roddy Gayle, Felix Okpara and Bruce Thornton ready to take the next step?
This is probably the question with the most direct impact on how much Ohio State is able to flip the script from last year. All three played significant minutes during the first years of college basketball, went through rough patches and periods of success and ultimately closed the season on a collective high note. When the 2022-23 roster was assembled, Holtmann made a commitment to building through youth, with the blessing of athletic director Gene Smith.
At the time, it also included Sensabaugh, but he’s on track to remain in the NBA draft and be picked in the first round. Now that means Gayle, Okpara and Thornton, each of whom will step into even more significant roles, and it’s clear the three have been a priority during the offseason. The Buckeyes did not target any players who would project to take playing time from the three, instead adding complementary pieces that should provide veteran support. For Ohio State to return to competing near the top of the Big Ten and to return to the NCAA Tournament, Gayle, Okpara and Thornton will all need to make that sophomore leap.
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Can Bowen Hardman and Kalen Etzler find roles?
It’s clear that Hardman possesses a dangerous 3-point shot. His biography in Ohio State’s official game notes last season labeled him as a “lights-out shooter” who “stretches the floor with his ability to hit the shot on the perimeter.” The problem is that after an injury-shortened final season at Cincinnati Princeton, Hardman was a non-factor in his first season with the Buckeyes. He played a team-low 18:11 for the season in seven games and was 4 for 8 from 3-point range. Otherwise, he was a healthy, unused substitute in 21 of the final 23 games and totaled one minute of time in those two appearances.
The Buckeyes could use some more shooting, and Hardman can shoot. The question is if he can put himself in position to get on the floor in his second season.
Etzler, after redshirting to put on some strength, was also unable to find a role on last year’s team. He’s an intriguing talent, a blend of athleticism and surprising dunking power, but it amounted to only nine appearances last season totaling 29:55. He’ll have to battle the likes of Battle, Royal, Middleton, Evan Mahaffey and the threat of three-guard lineups to carve out a rotation role in his third year.
What growth can Zed Key realistically make?
Until suffering a shoulder injury that would eventually require season-ending surgery, Key was playing the most consistent, productive basketball of his Ohio State tenure. Averaging 13.4 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds per game, Key was in the process of establishing himself as a legitimate Big Ten center until a collision with Purdue’s Zach Edey resulted in a left shoulder sprain. He would play through the pain before ultimately shutting things down and starting what will be a six-month recovery period effectively sidelining him until the start of the fall.
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Holtmann has talked about playing Key and Okpara together, and Key made some gains as a perimeter player in the opening weeks of the season, but the injury will prevent Key from putting in significant time growing his shot and expanding his game during the offseason. It’ll be an uphill battle just to get back to where he started last season, which makes projecting his ceiling this season a challenge.
When does the upside kick in for Evan Mahaffey?
The final piece to the puzzle, Cincinnati native Evan Mahaffey committed to Ohio State on Wednesday as a transfer from Penn State. He saw consistent minutes in his lone season with the Nittany Lions and joins the Buckeyes with three years of eligibility remaining. The 6-6, 200-pound Mahaffey arrives advertised as a player with upside who, his high school coach said, has NBA potential if he continues to develop.
The question is what that looks like immediately at Ohio State. Mahaffey figures to see some playing time in concert with Scotty Middleton and Devin Royal at the small or power forward positions and could, in an emergency, pitch in at the point guard spot as well. How many minutes can Mahaffey carve out in his first year at Ohio State?
Will Scotty Middleton’s defense live up to the billing?
Holtmann has spoken frequently in recent years of his need to acquire more true two-way players who can impact the game on both ends of the court regardless of who else is on the floor. More recently, he’s had to address a porous defense that has been the biggest factor holding the Buckeyes back.
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Middleton, who flirted with a five-star ranking for much of his high school career, is billed as a high-impact defensive player whose athleticism and ball skills will also allow him to grow into a polished scorer at Ohio State. His defense should get him on the floor early, and if his offense can keep him there his role will only grow during his first season.
Can Austin Parks challenge for immediate minutes?
Checking in at nearly 7 feet tall in shoes, Austin Parks will immediately occupy a role as the biggest player on Ohio State’s roster. Boasting a Big Ten-ready body, Parks gives the Buckeyes some legitimate interior size to help compete with the other big men in the league. How much immediate playing time that generates for the first-year center is a difficult question because it’s unclear that Ohio State will be able to play Key, Okpara and Parks together. In 2023-24, Parks is likely looking at whatever minutes are left over after the two returning centers.
How quickly can Devin Royal make the jump?
Throughout his prep career, Pickerington Central’s Devin Royal has proven his ability to score regardless of the level of competition he’s faced. It was one of the most attractive parts of his game for the Ohio State coaching staff, and the expectation is that his abilities will translate at the college level. He’ll need to continue to work on his perimeter shooting, and his defense will likely be a work in progress, but Royal projects as a multi-year impact player who should be able to score consistently for a team that will replace three of its top five scorers.