Ohio State Buckeyes
2020-21 Record: 21-10, 12-8 in the Big Ten
Head coach: Chris Holtmann
Tenure at Ohio State: 5th season
Career coaching record: 201-128
Home court: Value City Arena
Starters: G Jamari Wheeler, G Cedric Russell, F Justice Sueing, F Kyle Young, F EJ Liddell
Bench: G Meechie Johnson Jr, G Malaki Branham, G Eugene Brown III, F Justin Ahrens, F Zed Key, F Kalen Etzler, F Seth Towns, C Joey Brunk
Overview: Ohio State continued its impressive run under relatively new head coach Chris Holtmann last season, as it followed up a 21-10 2019-20 season with another 21-10 season in 2020-21. Although at first glance these numbers may suggest that they remained fairly stagnant, the Buckeyes were actually a much more impressive team, finishing No. 7 in the final AP Poll—compared to No. 19 the previous year—and becoming a No. 2-seed. They had everything going for them fresh off of a stellar Big Ten tournament run, defeating eventual No. 1-seed Michigan and falling just short of a championship in overtime to Illinois, another No. 1-seed. However, this promising team eventually collapsed under the weight of everyone’s high expectations, losing in just the first round of the NCAA tournament to No. 15-seed Oral Roberts—a massive upset in the basketball world.
Last season, the Buckeyes were led by Duane Washington and EJ Liddell, who both averaged over 16 points on efficient shooting. Unfortunately, their stars failed to produce at that same level come March Madness. Although Washington scored 18 points against Oral Roberts, he shot just 25% from the three and 33% from the field, including critical misses late in regulation and overtime. Liddell had an impressive 23 points and 14 rebounds, but it was all masked behind his missed crucial free throw with 37 seconds remaining in regulation, which allowed Oral Roberts to tie the game. Additionally, his late turnover in overtime led to a bucket that put the Golden Eagles up 6, a lead they then never relinquished. This team looked like it had the billing to make a deep run in the tournament but couldn’t get it done when it mattered most. In fact, Holtmann still has yet to reach the second weekend of March Madness with this program. In order for the Buckeyes to regain respect as a legitimate contender, they will need to prove that they can shine when the lights are brightest.
Ohio State heads into the 2021-22 season ranked No. 17 in the preseason poll. Although it lost Walker and star guard Washington, it still brings back Liddell and Sueing, who are on the Karl Malone and Julius Erving watch lists, respectively. The Buckeyes also bring in new transfers Jamari Wheeler (Penn State), Cedric Russell (Louisiana) and Joey Brunk (Indiana), who collectively could do little more than replace that lost production. Holtmann had been known for his imposing defenses with Ohio State, but that changed last year due to a lack of forced turnovers and an inability to consistently defend the three. However, the Buckeyes could be taking a step back onto the right path this year, as newcomer Wheeler was a Big Ten All-Defensive Team honoree in 2020-21.Young will also be healthy and back in the lineup, a presence that was missed in the loss to Oral Roberts. These changes could have a monumental impact on this team’s upcoming season, especially if Liddell, a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year, is able to keep up his elite level of production.
Team ceiling: If Holtmann is finally able to figure it out in March Madness, Ohio State could make the Final Four as Big Ten champions.
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Team floor: If the Buckeyes are not able to recover from their disappointing early exit last year, they could find themselves struggling in a daunting Big Ten conference and once again fall short in just the first round of the NCAA tournament.