In a closed-door scrimmage with Louisville, Ohio State didn't exactly treat anything like an actual game.
In its second exhibition of the preseason, which will tip off against Cedarville at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center, Chris Holtmann and his staff will treat preparation more similarly to a regular season game.
"We're just trying to go through a little bit more of what a pre-game day experience will look like in terms of scouting," Holtmann said. "But it's not going to be exactly like it will be against Cincinnati. I think the thing I'm most curious about is how will so many of our young guys play with people in the stands, people watching. Just a different environment than what they've had day to day practice. I think I'm probably most anxious in that."
Holtmann has continually called this the youngest team he has ever coached. When the Buckeyes open the season against Cincinnati on Nov. 6, they'll trot out a team with seven underclassmen and one senior.
Given the roster construction, Ohio State needs significant contributions from its newcomers in order to live up to its No. 18 ranking in the preseason Associated Press Top-25 poll. The exhibition with Cedarville will give the public its first chance to see them.
Ohio State will have 11 scholarship players in action on Wednesday evening – Musa Jallow won't play due to recent surgery on his right ankle – and five of them will be playing their first game in front of a home crowd at the Schottenstein Center.
There's DJ Carton, a 6-foot-2, 190 pound point guard from Bettendorf, Iowa. He's the highest ranked recruit Chris Holtmann has ever signed.
There's E.J. Liddell, a 6-foot-6, 236-pound forward from Belleville, Illinois. He'll have a chance to start at power forward as a freshman.
There's Alonzo Gaffney, a 6-foot-9, 198-pound forward from Cleveland, Ohio. He's the highest ranked Ohioan Holtmann has landed as the Buckeyes head coach.
There's Ibrahima Diallo, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound center from Saly, Senegal. He's a long, lanky big man with plenty of physical potential and a long way to go before he reaches it.
And there's CJ Walker, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound point guard from Indianapolis. He's a Florida State transfer who sat out last year and now has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Of the aspects of his team that have Holtmann most looking forward to the season, seeing his newcomers in action tops the list.
"I just think a little bit the unknown with the number of new guys that we have and how you implement them, probably not unlike our fans even though I've had the benefit of seeing them for 23 practices," Holtmann said. "I just think the excitement of seeing those guys in real, competitive situations is what gets me most excited."
A 526-mile drives separates Ohio State from UNC-Pembroke, the team it faced in its exhibition prior to the 2018-19 season tipping off. Only 56 miles separate Ohio State and Cedarville.
|Cedarville||Schottenstein Center||7 p.m.||BTN+|
That distance, Holtmann believes, will become the norm with the once-a-year preseason exhibition at the Schottenstein Center. The scrimmage with UNC-Pembroke was scheduled because former Ohio State head coach Eldon Miller was a volunteer assistant coach on his son's staff.
"We always want to play Ohio schools in this exhibition. It's something we really want to do," Holtmann said on Tuesday. "We had kind of a unique situation last year with a former coach. But we're excited about playing another Ohio school. We'll typically play one, and it'll be a different one every year."
The Yellow Jackets sold out their allotment of 1,500 tickets in less than an hour, Holtmann said, and were given about 1,000 more by Ohio State.
Cedarville, a Division-II team, went 21-12 last year with a 14-6 record in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. In postseason play, they won three games to claim the National Christian College Athletic Association Tournament championship.
As a lower-level program, it doesn't have the size or athleticism to match up with Ohio State, but it does return three of its top four scorers. Conner TenHove, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior forward, led Cedarville with 15 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year.
"(Head coach) Pat (Estepp) does a great job," Holtmann said. "He's got a veteran group, a Division II team that I think is picked third or fourth in their league, which is a really good Division II league. So they have some veteran guys coming off of a team that won 20 games last year."
What To Watch On Wednesday
By the time Ohio State tips off against Cedarville, it will have already completed 24 preseason practices. Naturally, Holtmann weighs those "way more" heavily than one exhibition game in front of the public. But areas of concern can appear in scrimmages, so it's worth paying attention to what jumps out as something with which the Buckeyes struggle.
Kaleb Wesson can't be the only consistent scorer on this year's team. Who can complement him as a consistent secondary scorer? Carton? Washington? Liddell? Muhammad? Andre Wesson? Somebody has to step up.
Ohio State struggled to take advantage of its transition opportunities last year. With the addition of Carton and Walker in the backcourt, Holtmann has said he hopes to be more efficient in that area, and the Buckeyes can show whether they've made the necessary advancements in that area against an athletically overmatched Cedarville team on Wednesday.
Efficiency from second-year guards?
Again on Tuesday, Holtmann impressed the importance of the development of Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. With seven underclassmen, he believes they have to make significant strides and take advantage of their experiences from last season.
Getting to the rim?
Nobody could consistently penetrate the paint and get to the rim on drives last season. The addition of Carton and Walker, along with development from Muhammad and Washington, means that area should be improved. Cedarville doesn't have the size to protect the paint, so that's an area to watch.
Ohio State beat Louisville in a closed-door exhibition, but per Holtmann, the team had 12 assists and 19 turnovers.
"We're not where we need to be," Holtmann said. "I wish I had a better answer. I've said that that I think in some ways last year's group, probably because it was a little bit older was a little bit further along, so we're just not where we need to be yet when it comes to that."
The Buckeyes will have a "pretty fluid" starting lineup Holtmann said. But the exhibition will offer a glimpse into what it could look like to begin the regular season. Kaleb Wesson and Andre Wesson are the two locks. Walker, Muhammad and Kyle Young are the other three likely starters.
How do point guards mesh?
Throughout the preseason, Holtmann has been open to playing Walker and Carton together. It'll be worth monitoring whether that happens on Wednesday and how each of them look running the offense when the other is on the bench. Walker will likely start, but it could prove to be hard to keep Carton off the court.
Kaleb Wesson's Body change?
Since last season ended, Wesson has lost more than 30 pounds. Will that make a difference in his play? It should, though the changes might not fully materialize until the regular season begins.
Does Diallo belong on the court?
He's tall. He's lanky. He's skinny. Is he ready to play minutes for the Buckeyes? If so, how many?
We don't know that answer quite yet, though Holtmann did say he thinks it's unlikely that anybody redshirts this season.
Nothing else matters to Ohio State more than this.