Just about halfway through the 2017-18 season, Chris Holtmann's first Ohio State team checks in at 11-4 with a perfect Big Ten 2-0 record, featuring an impressive comeback win over Michigan.
None of the Buckeyes' four losses are detrimental to their resume just yet. However, blowing back-to-back double-digit leads against Butler and Clemson is sure to eat at Ohio State moving forward, knowing it could easily sit at 13-2.
Holtmann's squad has brought a much-needed energy and more exciting brand of basketball to Value City Arena, a gym that has yet to be filled to capacity this season. With the midway point of the season upon us, we hand out our midseason grades by position, and include Ohio State's head coach as well.
While he is listed as a forward, we are going to include Kaleb Wesson in this discussion because he plays so many minutes in the post.
When the season began, Micah Potter appeared to be primed for a solid year before a high ankle sprain sidelined him for the better part of a month. Since returning to the lineup against Appalachian State, Potter has struggled to get back into a rhythm off the bench. While his minutes have decreased due to the injury and emergence of Wesson, Potter will play an integral role for Ohio State down the stretch with both his ability on the floor and with his leadership off of it as well. In order to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes need Potter to play a more physical brand of basketball in the post, while also giving them more consistency on the offensive end.
While Potter has struggled since coming back from his injury, Wesson has emerged as a consistent presence in the paint for Ohio State. Averaging 11.9 points per game, the freshman has given the Buckeyes a different dynamic offensively. Wesson's ability to play with his back to the basket and also stretch the floor with his shooting ability gives Ohio State options when running the offense. If the Buckeyes need to slow the pace, or if they are having trouble finding the bottom of the basket, dumping it down to Wesson in the post and running the offense through him has become a more reliable option as the season has progressed. For Wesson, the key moving forward will be staying out of foul trouble and continuing to develop his already vastly improved conditioning.
When Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate lead your group, you are probably going to get a good grade. As the two veterans go, the Buckeyes go. There is a reason Ohio State is in the position that it is, and it is because of these two players.
Bates-Diop is well on his way to being named first-team All-Big Ten, as he averages 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, leading the Buckeyes in both categories, while also shooting 51.5 percent from the floor. His length makes him a weapon on both offense and defense from all over the floor, and his ability to guard multiple positions defensively has made him one of the most valuable players in the Big Ten. In an 86-72 loss to North Carolina, Bates-Diop nearly single-handedly kept the Buckeyes in the game, with a variety of key shots down the stretch. If Bates-Diop continues his consistency in Big Ten play, who knows how far he can take the Buckeyes. It would be hard to ask much more of him, and individually, he grades out with an 'A-' for the first part of the season.
Tate has been thrust into a unique role this season, playing both his more traditional swing-forward position and point guard at times, but we will grade him on his play at his more traditional spot. The emotional leader of this squad, Tate has shown a second gear offensively this season that I am not sure anyone outside of the program knew he had prior to this year. Thunderous dunks against both Michigan and The Citadel have brought otherwise quiet crowds at VCA to their feet this season, as Tate has shown an improved explosiveness to the hoop this year. Moving forward, Ohio State needs Tate to cut down on his turnovers when running the point, yet continue to remain aggressive on both ends of the floor, providing the energetic spark he has become known for.
As for the rest of Ohio State's forwards, Kyle Young and Andre Wesson continue to show improvement as the season goes on after slow starts to their respective seasons. Young in particular played crucial minutes in the win over Michigan, but an ankle injury appears to have limited his minutes since then.
The older Wesson struggled mightily with turnovers early in the year, despite not being a primary ball-handler and saw his minutes decrease because of it. In recent games, Andre Wesson has provided a defensive boost, but has still struggled to find much of an offensive game.
Ohio State entered the season with just two true point guards in C.J. Jackson and Andrew Dakich, and for the first part of the season, the lack of depth at that spot was noticeable.
Jackson especially struggled with turnovers throughout the start of the season, which led to a two-game stretch in which the junior came off the bench in games against Wisconsin and Michigan. Since being re-inserted into the starting lineup, however, Jackson has shown improvement offensively, scoring in double-figures in all but one game since the benching. His perimeter jump shot has become one of the more consistent parts of Ohio State's offense, as he is connecting on 43.8 percent of his shots from behind the arc this season. Jackson has also shown the ability to beat defenders to the basket on occasions this season, and if he continues to develop his offensive game while cutting down on the turnovers, he can greatly improve his grade by the time the season ends.
Dakich has provided Ohio State with what we all thought he would this season. He gives Holtmann 10-15 minutes per game off the bench, runs the offense and limits turnovers. He isn't asked to score the ball (although there are times maybe he should), and has shown an extreme willingness to make plays for others on the offensive end. Defensively, Dakich plays hard but can be a liability on the perimeter against more athletic guards. Conference play will be a big test to see what Dakich is truly capable of as the calendar turns to 2018.
At the two-guard position, Kam Williams and Musa Jallow have rotated as starters, each providing Ohio State with a different skill set. Offensively, Williams has shown the ability to heat up for 20 points if needed. On the same token, if his shot isn't falling, he becomes a liability as his defense has struggled throughout his career at Ohio State.
Jallow's length and athleticism on the defensive end has led to Ohio State's defense creating deflections and turnovers, but Jallow has struggled to find a consistent offensive rhythm. If you could combine the skill-sets of Jallow and Williams, you would have one heck of a two-guard. For now, though, Holtmann must continue to find a healthy balance of both until one emerges as a consistent threat and can assume the full-time starting role.
Chris Holtmann: A-
Yes, this might be a generous grade just 15 games in, but when you look at where Ohio State is now and compare it to where many thought this team would be, you have to be impressed with what Holtmann has been able to do so far this season.
Holtmann has already had to juggle a pair of injuries with a team that lacks any kind of depth, has put together a top-20 recruiting class (as of Jan. 3), and has held his players accountable for their actions on more than one occasion this year, suspending Kaleb Wesson for a game and giving Bates-Diop a quick hook against William & Mary to let his best player know he wasn't playing up to the level expected of him.
In addition, he has continuously tweaked his lineup to give his team the best chance to win in every game. The record might sit at 11-4, but Holtmann and his staff have put Ohio State in a position to contend for a shot at the NCAA Tournament through 15 games, a reality not many expected when the season began.