11W Offseason Hoops Mailbag: Who Leads Ohio State in Scoring, Best Big Ten Arena, How Buckeyes Replace Kaleb Wesson

By Colin Hass-Hill on April 20, 2020 at 10:23 am
Justice Sueing and Musa Jallow

We're six months away from Ohio State beginning the season. The Eleven Warriors offseason mailbag is here in the meantime to help bridge that gap, answering your burning basketball questions.

Put these guys in order for predicted points per game next year: Towns, Sueing, Washington, Liddell — Killer Nuts

Well, let’s start with an impossible question. I could legitimately see this going in any order because each of them have significant questions they’ll need to answer in the offseason.

Will Seth Towns get healthy and quickly knock off the rust? Can Justice Sueing recover from his left foot injury soon, and how well will his game translate from a bad Pac-12 team to a good Big Ten team? How much more efficient can Duane Washington be in Year 3? Just how much of a leap will E.J. Liddell take as a sophomore?

There’s a lot to consider, and I don’t believe there’s a wrong answer.

Here’s my order, from more points per game to least: Washington, Sueing, Liddell, Towns.

Washington at No. 1 because, due to the transfers of DJ Carton and Luther Muhammad, he’ll be on the court a bunch with loads of opportunities to score. Sueing behind him since he already led California in scoring two seasons ago and all reports of him throughout last season were overwhelmingly positive. Liddell in third since he should taker a big step forward. Towns last only because I’m going to want to wait to see him fully healthy before putting him higher on this list.

Who’s the most likely big in OSUs 2021 class at this point? Is Malaki Branham favoring any schools? — Dubs

Let’s start with Malaki Branham, who’s topped Ohio State’s wish list for the 2021 class for nearly a year. The 6-foot-4, 175-pound St. Vincent-St. Mary four-star shooting guard ranked No. 26 overall would be an optimal fit alongside four-star combo guard Meechie Johnson in the backcourt. He’s an aggressive, hyper-competitive, high-scoring guard who was raised in Columbus through middle school.

Branham did not, though, grow up as an Ohio State fan, which makes him tougher to predict than some other Ohioans. Louisville and Xavier are the competing schools to pay attention to right now. Not having a spring and summer on the Nike EYBL circuit might limit how much his recruitment blows up, which could weirdly work in the Buckeyes’ favor. Either way, he’s of the utmost importance to Ohio State.

As for a big man, it’s a bit of a tougher proposition. Nobody has topped the list for as long as Branham, and now that four-star Moeller big man Logan Duncomb has chosen Indiana, the Buckeyes will have to go out of state to find their guy. 

Efton Reid might be the answer, but there’s still ample work to be done in the pursuit of the 6-foot-11, 225-pound five-star center. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he’s not in Ohio State’s backyard, and he has Louisville and Virginia chasing him. He took an official visit to Columbus in the fall, which helps. It’d be a huge deal if the Buckeyes pulled that off, but they've got stiff competition. 

Assuming Kaleb is gone, how does Ohio State defend the post next year?  How far is Diallo from being a significant contributor? — Va_buck

If we’re making a list of top-five concerns about next year’s team, this makes the cut. There’s not an easy answer, either. 

I expect Kyle Young to start at center, and as of now I’d project Liddell to open games alongside him at power forward. With those two in the frontcourt, Ohio State would already open many games undersized down low. Both are physical, though. Young’s activity and Liddell’s shot-blocking acumen help. Besides them, the Buckeyes need to get whatever they can out of sophomore Ibrahima Diallo (6-foot-10, 220 pounds) and freshman Zed Key (6-foot-8, 230 pounds), the only other true big men on the roster. That’s not necessarily optimal, but it’s the reality.

Diallo is still a ways away from contributing in a consistent manner. He’s got a substantial wingspan and moves well for a center, but it was obvious every time he stepped onto the court as a freshman that he’s still exceedingly raw. I expect him to play more as a sophomore, but I’m not anticipating a massive leap.

What are the chances that Chris Livingston goes pro rather than playing in college?  If you assume that he plays in college, who is the favorite to land him, and what % shot would you give the Buckeyes? — Titus Rubles

I’m anticipating Chris Livingston goes pro, even though it doesn’t seem as if he’ll be able to go straight to the NBA out of high school anymore. As for the chance Ohio State gets him? Probably somewhere around 1 and 5 percent. It’s very low and I don’t see it happening.

That said, having seen him play a couple of times, he’s the real deal. The Western Reserve Academy sophomore is viewed as the No. 3 overall player in the class of 2022, and he deserves every bit of that ranking. Livingston’s the real deal. If you get a chance to see him in high school, go watch him play. 

Even though Kaleb Wesson and his offense is gone to the professional ranks, do you see this team actually being better overall offensively with Sueing and Towns manning two of the starting spots? — AZ Buckeye13

Better? That’s tough.

Sure, Ohio State’s offense had its flaws last season. Nobody needs a reminder. But with the season finished, it’s worth remembering that, per KenPom, the Buckeyes ranked No. 13 overall in adjusted offensive efficiency and were third in Big Ten games in the metric. It’s tough to get much better, especially considering they lost their leading scorer (Kaleb Wesson), best 3-point shooter (Andre Wesson) and a point guard primed to take the next step (DJ Carton).

While keeping that in mind, though, you’re right to point out that Ohio State’s adding some impressive offensive weapons. If anything, it should be more well-rounded.

CJ Walker’s in his second year running the show. Washington, the team’s best scoring guard, will play a career-high in minutes. Sueing can get to the basket off of the bounce. Towns is a potential 40-percent 3-point shooter. Liddell should take a step forward offensively. Young might add something to his game as a senior. Altogether, there’s a lot to like.

Can I say it’ll be a push? I think Ohio State will have a similar offensive output and efficiency, even though as a while it'll look completely different.

Best away arena in the B1G Conference? — Seattle Linga

I’ve got to say, you didn’t have to put the qualifier of it being an “away” arena in the question. Can’t say I’d have gone with the personality-free building on the corner of Lane and Olentangy. St. John Arena wouldn’t be my answer, either, if it’s eligible.

I haven’t been to all – or even a majority – of Big Ten arenas, but I have a hard time believing anything will top Michigan State’s Breslin Center. It maneuvers the tightrope of packing nearly 15,000 people into the arena while also feeling like an intimate venue.

My runner up: Purdue’s Mackey Arena. Michigan’s Crisler Center in third and Indiana’s Assembly Hall in fourth. Sorry to all the Hoosiers out there who think it deserves the top spot.

Who plays more minutes next year: Diallo or Zed Key? Who plays more minutes next year, Zed Key or Eugene Brown? — Killer Nuts and Blackcoffee

Let’s group both of these questions together since they overlap and my answer doesn't change.

Zed Key and Zed Key.

As a three-star power forward, Key doesn’t blow away anybody looking for Ohio State to sign the next five-star big man. But he should be a productive, multi-year forward who gets some early run simply because of the lack of frontcourt depth. He’s a quality rebounder and finisher at the rim, which could get him onto the court more than Diallo in 2020-21. Brown’s intriguing, but because he plays an off-the-ball wing position loaded with veterans, he has more people in front of him. 

How are next year's (and future) schedules shaping up? — BeatMeechigun

What we already know about for next season…

  • A season-opening game against Oakland
  • A home game versus Akron
  • The Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas

A CBS Sports Classic rematch with North Carolina seems likely, too. Beyond those games, nothing else has been released for the 2020-21 season.

Ohio State will participate in the Maui Invitational at some point in the future. Holtmann confirmed that in the fall. I fully expect the Buckeyes to partake in an early season tournament just about every year going forward, which is a change from what Thad Matta did. 

Which player on the upcoming 2020-2021 team would you want as a quarantine roommate? — LilTrautie

Since my parents spent years in Malawi with the Peace Corps, I've always wanted to spend some time in Africa. I'd want to tell you to send me to Senegal with Diallo, but I'm not sure I should do any cross-continental travel right now.

So, I'll go with Kyle Young, who as a senior is closer to my age than some of the underclassmen. Who's ever complained about him? Seems like a safe pick.

Who will provide the heart of this team with the graduation of Andre and the departures of Kaleb and Luther? — Ohio Guy In Jersey

CJ Walker. Without any hesitation, it’s Walker.

He got to Columbus and gained so much respect while sitting out the 2018-19 season that he was named a team captain the following year before he had ever even played a game as a Buckeye. Holtmann has said he’s a future coach no fewer than 10 times. The fifth-year senior’s a mature leader who takes care of his business, doesn’t take any shit and expects everybody else to do so as well.

I look at our roster next year and in my opinion we are capable of a Final Four and Big Ten championship, but the following year I think we have a legit shot to be ranked preseason top 3. Am I to overconfident or do you think that is a real possibility? — Elguapo

I respect the optimism, Elguapo. We all need it these days.

I, too, think this team’s talented enough to surprise some analysts, especially since it’s largely getting ranked between No. 20 and 30. That, to me, is reasonable since everybody watched Carton, the Wesson brothers, Muhammad and Gaffney leave. It might be a touch on the low side, though.

As for the second part of your question... Remember what people were saying about the Buckeyes at this time last year? Many believed they’d be ranked top-five ahead of the 2020-21 season because Kaleb Wesson would return as a senior as a potential All-American to go along with Carton, Liddell and Gaffney in Year 2. Well, that didn’t happen.

It’s just so hard to predict how a roster will look that far ahead. Those who follow Ohio State now know that as well as anybody else. 

Thanks for the questions, everybody. Stay safe out there.

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