The Buckeyes are going to be quite young next season, and if Chris Holtmann’s squad is going to be as good as many people think it can be, he will need to find a way to prematurely age his team.
Trips overseas during the offseason are a great way to build camaraderie and get a team experience before camp even begins. Unfortunately, teams are only allowed to do this once every four years and the Buckeyes went to Spain last summer.
With no European vacation on the horizon, Holtmann will invest in other ways to put a few miles on his team, and that process already began last year. Consider that each of Ohio State’s four true freshmen this past season started at least two games last season.
Guard Luther Muhammad was the rookie in the lineup the most, starting 28 of the Buckeyes’ 34 games and leading all freshmen with 7.6 points per game.
Backcourt mate Duane Washington only started twice, but was a key contributor off the bench, averaging 7.0 points per game. Swingman Justin Ahrens started four times and played more as the season went on. Post player Jaedon LeDee started twice, but has since transferred.
Those three sophomores will be joined next season by a four-man signing class, meaning the majority of the team will be freshmen or sophomores.
Even though that was always the plan when Holtmann took over, it was about making the best of a tough situation. Talent has been brought in, but simple math says that youth will have to be served.
“Seven of our 12 available guys will be freshmen or sophomores,” Holtmann said last week. “The good thing is some of those freshmen who are now sophomores gained some valuable experience. Old wins in college basketball. We know that. Look at the teams that advance and the teams that have won the Big Ten. I would challenge you to tell me how many of those teams have been really young teams in the last five or 10 years.”
Because of the experience that last year’s class gained this past season, they will not be your typical sophomores next year, especially Muhammad and Washington. Holtmann will need them to help lead a team that will be one-third true freshmen.
The return of Kaleb Wesson will give the Buckeyes a focal point, and veterans Andre Wesson, Kyle Young, and Musa Jallow will be familiar faces, as will transfer point guard CJ Walker, who didn’t play last year but practiced all season long.
Along with the rising sophomores, this group of veterans gives Holtmann the kind of age he likes, but he also knows it probably won’t be enough.
“We need to get old,” he said. “That will take some time. We aren’t there yet. That’s kind of how we planned it, too. We knew there would be a process to getting old.”
The freshman class will be arriving soon and the aging process will begin shortly thereafter.
Center Ibrahima Diallo is already on campus and trying to find his way. Point guard DJ Carton and forwards Alonzo Gaffney and EJ Liddell will eventually show up as well.
Together, Carton, Liddell, and Gaffney will make the Buckeyes a more talented team and each of the three could be in the rotation immediately. Holtmann will have to find the fine line between aging his players and asking too much of them. Fortunately, there are other players around to rely upon.
Once Carton or Liddell or Gaffney starts to take over a game or two, or can be relied upon to be in the game late, they will be displaying the kind of older-than-their-years understanding that the Buckeyes need.
And if that starts happening around January or February, then Ohio State could be looking at a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 2020.