The questions aren’t hard to find.
Start talking about Ohio State basketball at any point this offseason and wonder about how Chris Holtmann’s team moves forward after a spring of roster turnover quickly follows. Like clockwork, speculation starts pouring in.
The Buckeyes no longer have their leading scorer and rebounder, Kaleb Wesson, who’s pursuing an NBA career. Andre Wesson and Luther Muhammad, both starters the past two years, have moved on via graduation and transfer, respectively. DJ Carton, once viewed as the point guard of the future, left for Marquette. Alonzo Gaffney took the junior-college route, bouncing from Columbus to Northwest Florida after an underwhelming freshman season.
Collectively, it’s a lot to replace. There's no debate. Yet Holtmann has consistently espoused confidence in a veteran-laden roster heavy on new faces expected to be key contributors.
“I feel really strongly about our core coming back,” Holtmann said. “And then obviously we've added some important transfers.”
One of the newcomers? Justice Sueing.
Well, technically he’s not exactly new. Sueing, now a redshirt junior, transferred to Ohio State from California last year with two seasons of eligibility remaining, sitting out to abide by transfer rules. He participated in offseason workouts then spent months practicing before January foot surgery put him on the mend.
But while he's been in the program for over a year, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound forward has flown completely under the radar in a somewhat similar manner to CJ Walker in 2019. Especially since Seth Towns has become the team's transfer forward garnering headlines, Sueing's name simply hasn't come up overly often.
But it should.
Based on what he did with the Golden Bears, he will be an immediate impact player for the Buckeyes.
In Sueing's first two college seasons, California was bad. No, California was atrocious. The Wyking Jones-led team went 16-47 across both years, winning a total of five Pac-12 games and never cracking eight victories in a season.
Sueing, however, was one of the lone bright spots. He averaged 13.8 points per game as a true freshman before leading the Golden Bears the following year with 14.3 points per game. Shortly after Jones got fired, Sueing put himself in the transfer portal, eventually landing in Columbus.
“He's got real strengths,” Holtmann said. “Can really get to the paint. He's a good athlete. Terrific at getting to the free-throw line. He's been an inconsistent shooter, but I'm hoping that's something he can improve on and will need to improve on. And then he's got great anticipation skills as a defender, but he has to become a better overall defender. But great frame, great body, good athlete, strong win. Terrific ball skills.”
In order for Holtmann to keep the Buckeyes rolling without the Wesson brothers, Carton and Muhammad, he'll need last year's addition of Sueing to pay off this upcoming season.
Getting To The Rim With Consistency
Last season, Ohio State shot the ball from the outside better than the vast majority of teams in the country. It ranked in the 98th percentile with 1.18 points per possession on catch-and-shoot opportunities in the half-court, per Synergy Sports. Its 3-point percentage of 37.3 ranked 23rd nationally, and it shot 36.2 percent from behind the arc in Big Ten games, which was No. 1 in the conference.
What did the Buckeyes struggle to do, though? Attack the rim and draw fouls on drives.
Sueing will aid greatly in turning that into a potential strength.
Instead of being overwhelmingly fast or explosive with the ball in his hands, he's both quick and rugged with acceleration. The lefty, who often puts his spin move to use, prefers to drive left and finish with his dominant hand but can go right if needed. He can adjust his pace to whatever's necessary in the moment.
“He's hard to keep in front,” Holtmann said. “He's terrific at getting to the paint. One of the things we lose with Kaleb is that guy who can draw fouls and get to the paint. Justice does that at a high level.”
Sueing never shies away from contact, and he has a knack for both drawing it and finishing through. His 1.32 points per possession around the rim (excluding post-ups) ranked in the 83rd percentile during his final season at California, which was a better mark than any Ohio State player had last year, per Synergy Sports. Sueing's free-throw rate of 50.9 that year ranked 126th among all players in the country. He also improved to shoot 78.2 percent at the line as a sophomore.
His flair for consistently getting to the hoop and drawing fouls will be revelatory for a team that hasn't had anyone with that ability in a few years.
No, Sueing doesn't have Carton's 0-to-60 speed that Holtmann once said was the best he had ever seen.
Instead, he has a reliable, under-control transition offense that allows him to blend his creativity and on-court intelligence in an uncommonly efficient manner. Ohio State typically hasn't played at a high pace in the Holtmann era, but Sueing thrives when he gets into the open floor, which Holtmann will certainly try to take advantage of over the next two years.
Sueing's 1.263 points per possession in transition during the 2018-19 season put him in the 86th percentile of all players, per Synergy Sports. His 76 possessions used in transition were more than any single Ohio State player last year, and his points per possession were higher than all but Kyle Young (1.636) and Justin Ahrens (1.357), both of whom had fewer than 15 transition opportunities.
One of the most eye-opening stats: Sueing was awarded free throws on 32.9 percent of his transition possessions as a sophomore, while no Buckeye went to the free-throw line on more than 17.6 percent of their transition opportunities last year.
Quality Rebounder And Athlete
The 6-foot-6 Sueing won't blow everybody away with his athleticism, but that isn't meant to undersell it. He's a physical, agile forward with quick instincts. He averaged at least five rebounds per game both years at California, including a few put-back dunks.
Defensively, Sueing's a bit more difficult of an evaluation because the Golden Bears primarily played zone defense. At times, he was a bit up-and-down, which is to be expected when playing in what was statistically one of the nation's worst defenses. His change of direction wasn't always the quickest, but he had active hands.
Notably, Sueing averaged at least 1.5 steals per game each season. His 2.8 steal percentage led California as a sophomore and was better than any Ohio State player's steal rate last year.
Though Sueing led the Golden Bears in scoring as a sophomore while playing 34.5 minutes per game, the offense didn't run through him all the time. He rarely brought the ball up the court or initiated sets, oftentimes feeling like more of a complementary piece rather than the featured option. Sueing's usage rate of 22.3 percent as a sophomore was lower than that of Kaleb Wesson, Duane Washington Jr., DJ Carton and E.J. Liddell last season.
At Ohio State, it's not as if Sueing will turn into a full-time point forward. But he could handle the ball a bit more than he did with the Golden Bears, where he showcased impressive distributing skills, albeit in limited opportunities.
Sueing's two assists per game as a sophomore don't do him justice.
He usually keeps his head up with the ball in his hands, keeping an eye out for passing lanes. He's excellent at finding his teammates moving without the ball, developing a connection with center Connor Vanover. Near the basket, Sueing showed an ability to slither around defenders and dish passes around the opposition.
One of Sueing's other most underrated qualities is how he ensures the ball doesn't stick. Able to process what he wants to do post-haste, he's a helpful facilitator.
Low Turnover Rate
Some players are quick decision-makers. Some are smart decision-makers. Not everybody can pair those two qualities together for an enticing combination, but Sueing does.
His sophomore turnover rate of 13 percent is lower than all Ohio State players last season outside of Kyle Young. For somebody with the ball in his hands fairly frequently, that's an outstanding mark. Both he and Washington should be low-turnover ball-handlers.
Plenty of positives for Sueing, huh? Well, we saved the main drawback for the end.
Through two seasons, Sueing's outside shot efficiency has been somewhere between inconsistent and poor. He shot 31.1 percent from 3-point range on 4.2 attempts per game as a freshman before knocking down 30.2 percent of his triples on 3.7 attempts per game his sophomore season. Nationally, he's in just the 25th percentile with 0.828 points per possession on catch-and-shoot opportunities as a sophomore, per Synergy Sports, which stands out considering the Buckeyes as a team were in the 98th percentile last year.
Ohio State's coaches don't anticipate Sueing will suddenly turn the corner, becoming a deadly outside shooter. However, there's cautious optimism that he'll shoot better the next two years. Will he get to the mid-30s? Even the high-30s? At this point in the year, no one knows.
But if he can get defenders to feel as though they have to guard him tighter on the perimeter, it would open up more opportunities for him to put the ball on the deck and get to the rim. A win-win scenario.
Until that happens in games consistently, however, it's fair to view the outside shot as Sueing's biggest flaw.