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We are now a few months removed from a hard-fought loss in the NCAA Tournament against No. 2 seed Villanova by the Ohio State basketball team. To say that the 2021-2022 season was one of ups and downs would be an understatement of epic proportions. In fact, it might be a little more characterized as a bizarre, on-again, off-again campaign that lacked flavor and punch by a team that underachieved for the most part.
Now, we are continuing to look ahead to the next season. OSU head coach Chris Holtmann has reiterated that he believes in what the Buckeyes were building and was confident that the program is headed in the right direction.
That will be tested next year with so many guys moving on from the program and so many fresh faces needing to be a big part of things. We thought we’d take a look at where things stand and what the key players and starting lineup might look like next year now that the 13-man scholarship roster appears to be set.
Here’s our second look at how we project the Ohio State basketball team to look like next season in an early summer effort.
First … Ohio State potential starters
Guard - Isaac Likekele
Oklahoma State’s Isaac Likekele (13) celebrates following a 64-51 win against Texas at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater on Jan. 8. Credit: USA TODAY Sports Network
Ohio State lost a ton of ballhandlers with the departures of Jamari Wheeler and Cedric Russell moving on because of eligibility, Malaki Branham declaring for the NBA draft, and Meechie Johnson transferring to perceived greener pastures. Holtmann has a history of bringing in veteran point guards from other programs, and Likekele appears to be the next. He could slot into another position, but with his leadership and experience, we are banking on him getting the starting nod as one of the main ball handlers, at least early in the season.
Guard - Sean McNeil
Mar 9, 2022; Kansas City, MO, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers guard Sean McNeil (22) drives to the basket during the game against the Kansas State Wildcats at T-Mobile Center. Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
The same veteran presence of a transfer also applies here. McNeil has been through many battles already in a major conference, so you know the ability is there. He’s tough as nails, and can even chip in some scoring when needed, averaging double figures last season in Morgantown. Other young guys will be ready to step up, but Holtmann loves his guards to be the make-up of what McNeil brings to the program.
Forward - Eugene Brown
COLUMBUS, OHIO – MARCH 06: Eugene Brown III #3 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to pass against Caleb Houstan #22 of the Michigan Wolverines during the first half at Value City Arena on March 06, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
There are so many ways this roster makeup could go when it comes to the starting five. Holtmann has already said he expects all of the freshmen to contribute right away, and it’s possible one of them elbow their way into the starting lineup. For now though, with so many unknowns, look for the coaching staff to utilize guys that have experience. And while Eugene Brown has been inconsistent, he knows the system, can provide length on the defensive end, and has the athleticism to go on spurts offensively from time to time.
Forward - Justice Sueing
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 11: Justice Sueing #14 of the Ohio State Buckeyes dunks the ball in the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the first half in the second round game of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 11, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
It’s looking more and more like Ohio State will be a smaller and more versatile team next season. The makeup looks much more like a Villanova type of team than what we’ve seen a lot of the Big Ten teams employ with more bulk and height. Of anyone, Justice Sueing feels like the key to next season. He’ll need to be a scorer and chew up minutes with his ability to get in the lane and handle the rock. Now, if he can just stay healthy.
Center - Zed Key
Ohio State Buckeyes forward Zed Key (23) fights for a rebound with Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Payton Willis (0) and forward Jamison Battle (10) during the second half of the NCAA men’s basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. Ohio State won 70-45. Credit: USA TODAY Sports Network
Key is a pretty sure thing for Ohio State next year. He’s undersized, but he’ll most likely be plugged into the post like he was this past season. He won’t step outside very often, but he’ll give the team hard work in and around the paint to be that bruising force that’s needed in a league like the Big Ten. With E.J. Liddell gone, look for him to shoulder more of the scoring load with an improved offensive game than what we’ve seen over his first two seasons.
NEXT … Other Key Players
Forward - Seth Towns
Feb 8, 2021; College Park, Maryland, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes forward Seth Towns (31) passes as Maryland Terrapins forward Donta Scott (24) defends during the second half at Xfinity Center. Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
If there’s a wildcard on this team, it’s Seth Towns. As the former Ivy League Player of the Year, Towns has the potential to be one of the main scoring options for Ohio State if he can remain healthy, stay on the floor, and have the confidence he once had. He’s got length, can shoot the ball well, and is fearless. He just needs to shake off the rust, heal up, and be a force.
Forward - Brice Sensabaugh
— On3 Recruits (@On3Recruits) September 28, 2021
We might be undervaluing Sensibaugh’s chances of being a big part of the 2022-2023 Ohio State team. He’s a four-star commit who has a big body and underrated athleticism. He can post guys up and runs the court well for his size. It’s the type of body that can withstand the beating in the Big Ten and that might mean a lot as the season progresses. Holtmann has already compared him to Duane Washington in a bigger body, so he clearly has a high opinion of what he can become.
Guard - Tanner Holden
Mar 16, 2022; Dayton, Ohio, USA; Wright State Raiders guard Tanner Holden (2) reacts to defeating Bryant University Bulldogs at University of Dayton Arena. Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Holden was an explosive scorer at Wright State and might be counted on to carry that scoring forward at Ohio State. You just don’t know how those abilities will translate to the Big Ten. He could be a revelation and be one of the best players on the team, or might struggle to adjust.
Guard - Bruce Thorton
✔️📸 It’s Official
— The Ohio State Hoops Insider (@OSUHoopsInsider) November 10, 2021
We originally projected Thorton to grab the starting point guard position with the need there. But then OSU went out and snatched three guards out of the transfer portal. The talent is still there, but look for Holtmann to allow him to slowly work his way into more of the plans. Thorton is one of the top-rated point guards in the country and is built durable and ready to play in the Big Ten. He might not be the scoring option he’ll be later in his career, but he comes out of the box perhaps more ready than any of the other young guys in a top-five recruiting class.
Guard - Roddy Gayle Jr.
Ohio State basketball commit Roddy Gayle Jr. watches the Buckeyes warm-up prior to the NCAA men’s basketball game against the Michigan Wolverines at Value City Arena in Columbus on March 6, 2022. Credit: USA TODAY Sports Network
Gayle is a long, athletic guard that’s coming in as a four-star prospect from the 2022 class. It’s hard to project how a freshman will translate to the next level, but he has the ability and size to break into a significant role with this team in year one. We’ll just have to see how quickly he picks things up and how well his frame can hold up against bigger bodies. Again, the coaching staff believes he can help the team right away.
Center - Felix Okpara
Dec 7, 2019; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Hillcrest Prep guard Dalen Terry (4) against Hamilton Heights center Felix Okpara (24) during the 2019 Hoophall West basketball tournament at Chaparral High School. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
There has been nothing to change our mind on Felix Okpara. OSU is in need of size in the paint, and he is a 6-foot, 11-inch prospect that could break into the rotation early because of his ability to be a rim protector. He might need some more seasoning on the offensive end, but you can’t teach the height he’ll be able to plug into a thin position.
Guard - Bowen Hardman
Moeller guard Evan Mahaffey blocks a shot by Princeton guard Bowen Hardman (14) during their basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Credit: USA TODAY Sports Network
Bowen Hardman might be a darkhorse candidate to get more minutes than you’d expect as a freshman. He is a sharpshooter from the Cincinnati area that could add the ability to stretch the defense much as Justin Ahrens did over the last few years. It’ll probably take him a bit to work his way into significant minutes for this team, but once he figures it out, he could fit a very important role for a team looking to have an inside/outside game to keep opposing defenses honest.
Forward - Kalen Etzler
Ohio State Buckeyes forward Kalen Etzler (24) guards Indianapolis Greyhounds guard Matthew Ambrose (24) during the second half of the NCAA exhibition basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. Credit: USA TODAY Sports Network
Etzler is a bit of an unknown. He took a redshirt year last season mainly because his body needed more development. How much a part of things he becomes will really depend on how he translates to the next level after coming out of high school as a three-star prospect. He might be a pleasant surprise immediately or could take some time to figure things out. We just don’t know yet.
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