Chris Holtmann offered up some sort of the phrase on more than one occasion.
“We have some work ahead of us,” he said.
It’s a good thing Holtmann knows it and is willing to admit it publicly, too, because he’s right. There’s a lot to do in Year 1 as Ohio State’s head coach.
Holtmann took over for longtime coach Thad Matta, who was let go after 13 years at the helm in Columbus. Matta took the Ohio State program to new heights, but declining on-court results over the last two seasons coupled with various recruiting misses and player departures led athletic director Gene Smith to make a change.
The Buckeyes were just 17–15 last season under Matta. It was the first time in Matta’s head coaching career he failed to reach the 20-win mark. Ohio State not only missed the NCAA tournament for the second-straight season, but it missed postseason play all together.
And just one year after four members of a singular recruiting class — Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens, Mickey Mitchell and A.J. Harris — transferred out of the program, four additional members of Ohio State’s roster opted to move on. Only one of those four, Marc Loving, was a senior. Trevor Thompson turned pro; David Bell transferred and JaQuan Lyle quit the program.
Eight player departures over a two-year period left the Buckeyes’ roster a little depleted. That’s not exactly an ideal situation for a new head coach to walk into. But sheer size isn’t the only issue with Ohio State’s roster in Holtmann’s first season. There’s a bit of an odd blend of talent, too.
There are only three guards on the Buckeyes' roster — all of whom stand 6-foot-2 or shorter. Junior point guard C.J. Jackson and fifth-year senior shooting guard Kam Williams figure to be the two starters in Ohio State's backcourt. Jackson was inconsistent in his first season playing at the Big Ten level last season — he was a junior college transfer — while Williams also struggled a bit to find a rhythm in his first year playing major minutes as a starter. As a sophomore, Williams was extremely effective in a sixth-man role; he didn't look as comfortable last season as a junior.
The only other guard on the roster is incoming freshman point guard Braxton Beverly so this is where the loss of Lyle hurts most. Had Ohio State had those four guards it probably would have been OK, but Beverly is probably going to have to play major minutes as a freshman. Is he ready for that?
Thompson's decision to turn pro and Bell's transfer also leaves the Buckeyes rather thin in the middle. Ohio State's only true center on the roster is incoming freshman and reigning Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio, Kaleb Wesson. He was expected to be a major contributor as a freshman but will have to do even more as the lone back-to-the-basket big on this roster.
The Buckeyes' lack of depth in the middle will likely force Micah Potter into another year of playing out of position. Potter is a pick-and-pop big who was forced into playing center last season behind Thompson even though he's much more comfortable playing a stretch-four position. The issue there, of course, is Potter struggled at times to defend some of the other stretch-fours around the Big Ten because he's a little bit bigger and not as quick. He's kind of caught in between right now. A lineup with both Potter and Wesson on the floor is intriguing but just doesn't seem doable with the lack of depth. If Ohio State's two bigs get into foul trouble, there could be some major issues.
If there's a spot where the Buckeyes should feel rather comfortable, though, it's on the wing. Jae'Sean Tate and the return of Keita Bates-Diop give Ohio State a pair of Big Ten-quality starting forwards and Andre Wesson and redshirt freshman Derek Funderburk will provide those two with minutes off the bench.
It's possible Andre Wesson could play some shooting guard as well. The 6-foot-6 Wesson is capable of defending Big Ten-level guards while also providing floor spacing on offense. Additionally, he can play some small forward, so his versatility will be key in how Holtmann mixes and matches lineups.
Funderburk is intriguing because nobody has seen what he's capable of doing yet at this level. He is a former top-100 prospect but he redshirted last season to add weight and strength as he sat behind Tate, Bates-Diop and Loving at the wing position. He's long and athletic and figures to be an impact defender right away; his offensive development will be the thing to watch.
However, Funderburk's status remains unclear as he was suspended by Holtmann on Thursday for "failure to meet team expectations."
The Ohio State coaching staff did not rule out potentially adding a player or two to next year's roster, but said, in one way or another, it had to be the right fit. The staff won't settle this late in the recruiting cycle just to add another body.
So if the Buckeyes' roster next year looks like it does at this point in time, there's certainly going to be a lot on Holtmann's plate in Year 1.