Coming into the season, it was clear that Ohio State's strength, at least in terms of depth, was going to be in the frontcourt.
The Buckeyes added freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young to a roster that returned sophomore Micah Potter and Keita Bates-Diop who has played anywhere from the 'three' to the 'five' this season.
However, because of spacing issues and defensive liabilities, head coach Chris Holtmann has not used a big lineup much this season, and doesn't appear to intend to moving forward. Holtmann said on his Monday radio show that he went small in a 69-68 loss to Penn State in order to create space offensively for Bates-Diop and other Buckeye shooters. Going in an opposite direction with size, however, is not an option for Holtmann's team at this stage.
On Tuesday, Holtmann was asked if Potter specifically could play the 'four' at all for Ohio State if needed. While he didn't rule it out for the 2018-19 season, Holtmann all but shut down the idea for the Buckeyes' upcoming NCAA Tournament bid.
"That might be something we look at in the future. (Potter's) ball handling and passing needs to really improve and at the same time, he has got to be able to guard 'fours.' He has got to be able to guard a guy like (Lamar) Stevens from Penn State," Holtmann said. "Hopefully we can get him to that point, but we are not close to being at that point right now. It is something I think in the future, we would like to be able to look at eventually doing that, playing him and Kaleb together."
Since returning from an ankle injury in December, Potter has been one of Ohio State's first and most consistent subs off the bench. He is the Buckeyes' leading scorer among non-starters (4.3 ppg), but it is his energy that Ohio State seems to value more than anything else at this point in the season.
After Potter's injury, Wesson stepped in and grabbed the starting role and never relinquished it. However, since suffering an ankle injury of his own early in a Feb. 15 loss to Penn State, the freshman has not appeared to be the same. He has failed to score in double-digits in three of Ohio State's last five games, and Holtmann said he has recognized that the Westerville, Ohio native has hit a bit of a wall as the season winds down.
"I think (teams) play him really physical. I think his finishes haven't been as strong, or his moves were not as decisive in that (Penn State) game as they needed to be. All-in-all, he did not move as well in that game (compared to) what he has done in the past," Holtmann said. "They were quicker to balls and they looked more athletic on the interior than we did. He is a freshman who has played a lot of minutes and there is clearly some mental and physical fatigue right now for a guy like him who has been in the starting lineup since (late November)."
Even though Ohio State has shown a tendency to play smaller rather than with size, it still tends to have more success when its big men, particularly Wesson, play well. In games where Wesson scores in double-figures, the Buckeyes are 15-4. When he scores in single-digits or doesn't play, Ohio State is 9-4.
Holtmann said getting Wesson into better shape during Ohio State's extended layoff will be an area of emphasis as the Buckeyes prepare for their first NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.
"I think the ankle, in terms of his movement may be a little part of it, because it is still giving him some issues. He just doesn't look to me like he is moving – we will try to get him into better shape before next week," Holtmann said. "We just have to get him back to moving better."