Accelerating Development of Players Likely to Be in Columbus Beyond This Season is Crucial for Chris Holtmann

By Chris Lauderback on January 11, 2018 at 11:05 am
Players likely to return for Year 2 of the Chris Holtmann must develop at a solid rate if the program is to return to elite status.

How fun was it to watch Ohio State basketball show that it can once again play with the big boys as the Buckeyes throttled top-ranked Michigan State, 80-64, providing the first signature win of the Chris Holtmann era? 

As a lifelong fan who used to wear out VHS tapes reviewing games going back to the final years of the Eldon Miller era, the fact the program has shown fresh life under Holtmann is probably even more exciting than the actual defeat of Tom Izzo's squad last Sunday. 

As such, even as I'm enjoying watching Keita Bates-Diop blossom into a star, Jae'Sean Tate bring his infectious energy every night, Kam Williams hit shots at a rate not seen before and Andrew Dakich give a selfless effort night after night, the reality is none of these guys will be back next year as Holtmann continues his efforts to rebuild a consistent Big Ten conference and NCAA tournament threat in Columbus. 

With that in mind, as I take in this season for all the fun it is providing, I'm also constantly thinking about how far this team can go riding Bates-Diop and Tate so hard, and maybe even more importantly in the grand scheme of things, how the guys who will return for Year 2 of the Holtmann era can ensure momentum continues trending in the right direction considering how much production is currently coming from players who definitely won't be back. 

K. BATES-DIOP JR 20.0 25.3% 8.8 23.8% 1.4 9.3%
J. TATE SR 12.9 16.3% 5.8 15.7% 2.8 18.7%
K. WILLIAMS SR 8.4 10.6% 1.6 4.3% 0.4 2.7%
A. DAKICH SR 3.2 4.1% 1.8 4.9% 2.4 16.0%
TOTAL ---- 44.5 56.3% 18.0 48.6% 7.0 46.7%

Through that lens, there's still plenty of work for Holtmann and staff to do this season in the form of developing primarily the younger talent. 

Though Holtmann was speaking directly to a question about the lack of production from his bench against Michigan State during media availability Wednesday afternoon at the Schott, the reality is his comments could just as easily apply to the guys who will be back next year not named Kaleb Wesson or C.J. Jackson.  

"It is our job as coaches to continue to try and develop those guys' confidence and help them understand how they can play effectively," Holtmann said. "And we're not going to go away from any of them as long as they're trying to play the way we want them to play. I do think there will be moments hopefully where in games they give us a good offensive lift and I do think they helped defensively in that particular game." 

So who are the guys most likely to return next season? In case you aren't yet all aboard the Buckeye hoops train, those key names would be current junior C.J. Jackson, freshman Kaleb Wesson, sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and another pair of freshmen in Musa Jallow and Kyle Young. 

At this point, I'll assume Jackson returns next year since he'll have eligibility but I suppose it's fair to throw out that anything is possible for the former juco transfer out of Charlotte, North Carolina. 

C.J. Jackson is Ohio State's second-leading scorer at 13.5 points per game.

A sub-40% shooter last season including a 32% clip from downtown, Jackson has come on this season averaging 13.5 points on the strength of 44% shooting from distance to go along with 4.1 boards and 4.3 assists per night. 

More of an off-guard having to play the point, Jackson's had his struggles with turnovers forcing Tate to see more time at the point than anyone would like but C.J.'s also a guy who can create his own shot and Holtmann has no choice but to deal with the fact he'll probably never be a 2:1 turnover-to-assist ratio guy especially if he can keep scoring 14 a night while maintaining his current shooting percentages (45/44/81).

Joining Jackson as the most productive player who should be back next year is true freshman Kaleb Wesson. 

The Westerville product is averaging 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a night and has shown solid passing acumen for a big man as evidenced by his five dimes against the Spartans. 

Comfortable with his back to the basket, Wesson can also face up and even step out and shoot an occasional three (38%) thanks to a legit shooting stroke that also sees him hit 75% of his free throws. 

From a development standpoint, a huge opportunity for Wesson is learning to stay out of foul trouble. Through 16 games, he's tallied at least four fouls eight different times including four disqualifications which is limiting him to 22.1 minutes per game. If Wesson can get a handle on staying on the floor the Buckeyes will be infinitely better off especially considering his primary backup, Micah Potter, has largely struggled through the first half of his sophomore campaign. 

Slowed by a sprained ankle causing him to miss four games, Potter has also seen less than nine minutes of action in seven other contests. 

Holtmann really needs Potter to begin showing progress and while he's connecting on 50% of his shots from the floor, Potter has also flashed an inability to stay out of foul trouble especially of late racking up eight fouls in 19 minutes over his last two games including four in four minutes against Michigan State. Is it fair to start wondering if Potter has a high enough ceiling to ever be a legit top-seven rotation contributor? It might be a little too early for that but the current body of work is certainly fuel for a naysayer. 

A capable defender, Andre Wesson has struggled to find his shot hitting 30% from the floor and 17% from distance this season.

Similar to Potter, fellow sophomore Andre Wesson has yet to prove worthy of meaningful rotational minutes and has pretty much been leapfrogged by true freshman Musa Jallow in the pecking order of wing reserves. 

A capable defender at times though he seems a little foul prone, the elder Wesson has struggled offensively hitting just 30% of his field goal attempts (12/40) including 17% from distance (4/23) and has just one point over his last four games on five total shots. 

Speaking of Jallow, the 17-year old freshman came in with a bang earning a starting spot for the majority of the early non-conference slate before settling into a reserve role. He brings solid length and athletic ability as a perimeter defender which is still earning him back-end rotation minutes. He's shooting 40% from the floor and just 25% from deep (8/32) but it feels like he's just scratching the surface. 

Finally, freshman Kyle Young is seeing just 10.2 minutes per game though is season highlight is a clutch six point (3/3 FG), four rebound performance in a season-high 21 minutes versus Michigan back in early December. 

An ankle injury caused Young to miss the following game against Bill and Mary before he came back to grab eight boards in 12 minutes versus The Citadel only to virtually disappear from the rotation as the competition ratcheted up. 

Over the last four games (UNC, Miami, Iowa, Michigan State), Young averaged just 7.2 minutes going a combined 0/4 from the floor with three boards, three fouls and one point. 

While there's definitely some key talent among the guys with potential to return next year, headlined by Jackson and Kaleb Wesson, the reality is Holtmann and his staff must work to accelerate the development of sophomores Potter and Andre Wesson in conjunction with bringing along freshmen with longer rope in Jallow and Young for the program to continue on its current upward trajectory. 

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