Finding the right fit for your college basketball program isn't just about what happens on the court, but off it as well. Today, Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Chris Holtmann and Thad Matta both made overtures to Seth Towns, doing their best to lure him to Butler and Ohio State, when he was in high school. The Columbus native spurned them, though, to sign with Harvard.
Towns thrived in his first two seasons with the Crimson, becoming the 2017-18 Ivy League Player of the Year as a sophomore, but a left knee injury sidelined him the past two years. Eventually, he chose moved on since the Ivy League does not allow graduates to play.
A couple months ago, he entered the transfer portal, leading to interest from more than 70 schools. Ohio State was among them, becoming a frontrunner along with Kansas, Virginia, Michigan, Maryland and Syracuse. Duke eventually got into the mix, making it a two-team race.
On Saturday, Towns made his decision official: He plans to become a Buckeye.
On The Court
Listed at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, Towns epitomizes where basketball is headed as a versatile, switchable forward who's both dangerous as a multi-level scorer and can play small forward or power forward at Ohio State.
Towns has the size to hold his own in the post, as evidenced by his team-leading 5.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Harvard, and he's also athletic enough to play on the wing on both ends of the court. With the Buckeyes, he joins a team suddenly teeming with multi-positional players, especially at the wing and forward spots.
In Columbus, Towns will be counted on to score at a high rate but with a decreased volume from what he did at Harvard. As a sophomore in 2017-18, he ranked 16th in the country by taking 33.8 percent of the shots while on the court. For reference, only one Ohio State player – Duane Washington (28.2) – took more than 25 percent of the team's shots while in games last season.
Towns, already relatively efficient offensively with the Crimson, could have an uptick in his shooting percentages as a Buckeye since he won't need to carry as much of the scoring load.
As a sophomore at Harvard, Towns averaged 16 points in 27.9 minutes per game while shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from behind the 3-point arc. One season earlier, he recorded 12.3 points and shot 42.8 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from 3-point range.
The knockdown shooter both thrives when pulling up for shots and when creating looks for himself off the bounce. He'll be an intriguing complement to Sueing, a similarly sized forward who is at his best driving and getting to the rim rather than firing shots from the perimeter.
15 Essential Plays for Harvard wing Seth Towns. Special shot-maker at 6-foot-7 with amazing ability to pull up off the dribble and hit over contests. Plus handler and passer. Needs to improve strength, finishing at rim, and lateral quickness/flexibility. Khris Middleton-lite. pic.twitter.com/b2nhQiuFvj— Jackson Hoy (@jacksonghoy) July 27, 2018
If Towns gets back to full health without diminished athleticism or a rusty skill set, he has All-Big Ten potential.
But that if will factor heavily into whether or not Towns can return to his Ivy League Player of the Year form.
Towns hasn't played a single game since suffering a left knee injury in the conference title game on March 11, 2018. Initially diagnosed as a bone bruise, doctors eventually found a cartilage tear that didn't heal after a surgery in the summer of 2018, necessitating a second surgery in early January. He's expected to get back to full health at some point this summer – possibly June or July, a source told Eleven Warriors.
Nobody doubts Towns' pedigree or past production. But since he's still recovering from the most recent surgery and hasn't played a game in over two years, it's unclear how the time off will have affected him.
In The Class
Similar to the plan for Sueing when he brought in as a transfer from California a year ago, Towns will help replace Andre Wesson at small forward, the position Wesson manned as a starter for the past two years.
Also like Sueing, Towns will be a redshirt junior next season. He's expected to have two years of eligibility remaining once he applies for a sixth year of eligibility with the NCAA.
Ohio State now has a massive, six-man junior class that includes Towns, Sueing, Justin Ahrens, Musa Jallow, Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. Having such a large group of players in the same class could force the Buckeyes to get creative, for they won't ever take a six-prospect recruiting class. But for now, that's nothing to worry about.
A more pressing question centers on the 13-scholarship limit. Here's how the 2020-21 scholarship chart looks at this moment:
|C||KALEB WESSON||–||IBRAHIMA DIALLO||–|
JUSTICE SUEING (RS)
SETH TOWNS (RS)
MUSA JALLOW (RS)
DUANE WASHINGTON JR.
|PG||CJ WALKER (RS)||–||–|
Including Towns, the Buckeyes are currently set to have 14 scholarship players on their roster next season – three seniors, six juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen.
They've already lost one player after DJ Carton opted to enter the transfer portal, though, and still have a couple other players with uncertain futures as they enter the offseason. Kaleb Wesson went through the NBA pre-draft process a year ago, and he has an upcoming decision to make about his future. Alonzo Gaffney, who wasn't with the team during its final four games of this past season, is weighing his future options.
At the moment, sitting one scholarship over the cap of 13 doesn't appear to be a major concern for Ohio State.
So, is Towns the final addition to next season's roster? Unclear, yet certainly possible.
Carton's transfer opened up a hole in the backcourt that a ball-handler with immediate eligibility could fill. As of now, CJ Walker's the only true point guard on the roster. The most recent indications, though, are that Ohio State would look at possibly adding a sit-one, play-two guard given the lack of underclassmen in the backcourt, especially at point guard. Going that route, rather than targeting an immediately eligible big man, would send the Buckeyes all-in on a small-ball approach for next season.
Towns had his pick of power conference programs. Out of high school, he could've opted to continue his basketball career at Ohio State, Michigan, Butler, Iowa, Purdue, Xavier or plenty of other programs coming after the three-star forward.
He chose to take his 4.0 GPA out of the Midwest to attend Harvard, from where he'll graduate with a degree in sociology this spring. That choice alone differentiates him from most college basketball players.
“I really believe as an African American with a Harvard degree, I’ll have a chance to make an impact somewhere,” he told the Washington Post in February. “I love basketball, but I hope there’s a lot more to my life than that.”
With that Harvard degree in hand, Towns is now heading home.
He grew up in Columbus and attended Northland High School, where he set school records on the basketball court – most points in a career, season and single game. Towns also was a member of the "Super Honor Roll" all 16 quarters of high school and earned second place in the NESB National Tri-Math-A-Lon competition.
Another interesting tidbit about his background? Towns nearly ended up playing for Holtmann at his previous stop. In 2015, he told the Columbus Dispatch that his decision came down to Harvard and Butler. Ultimately, he opted to play for Tommy Amaker while receiving an Ivy League education over what Holtmann's Bulldogs could offer.
Many years later, Towns and Holtmann will finally get a chance to work together at Ohio State. Funny how things work out.