Five Things: Chris Holtmann's Squad Demolished Wisconsin for Its Fourth Straight Victory

By Chris Lauderback on December 12, 2021 at 10:30 am
Jamari Wheeler

Don't look now but Chris Holtmann's basketball Buckeyes are 8-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten with key wins over Seton Hall, Duke and Wisconsin after yesterday's 73-55 thrashing of the Badgers in Value City Arena. 

E.J. Liddell again looked like an All-American with 28 points, on a blistering 11-of-16 from the field, with nine rebounds and four assists against two turnovers in 31 minutes. Ohio State outscored Wisconsin by 20 points when Liddell was on the floor. 

The victory extended Ohio State's winning streak to four and now the Buckeyes get a week off before taking on Kentucky next Saturday in Las Vegas as part of the CBS Sports Classic. 

For now however, here are Five Things from yesterday's victory as part of the somewhat surprising 8-2 start. 


Despite the strong start, Ohio State's had some issues with consistency and production from guards not named Jamari Wheeler. 

True freshman Malaki Branham obviously deserves plenty of patience but even against tempered expectations, he's not looked as comfortable as many expected. Make no mistake, he's going to be a star but for a kid seemingly with a Big Ten body right out of the gate, Branham's felt some struggles in being strong with the ball and knocking down his shot. 

Yesterday against Wisconsin, in his typical starter role alongside Wheeler, the youngster committed four turnovers in just 14 minutes and missed both his field goal tries to finish with zero points and two rebounds. 

On the season, despite flashes as an outstanding passer, Branham has fewer assists (16) than turnovers (18) and he's shooting only 38.8% from the field. Again, he's going to be just fine, I simply expected he'd adjust more quickly. 

With Branham scuffling a bit, Meechie Johnson Jr. and Cedric Russell both saw 19 minutes yesterday. Russell tallied seven points on 3-of-6 shooting but like Branham, turned it over four times. Meechie was better, with eight points (3-of-8) and just one turnover. Combined, Russell and Johnson's 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc helped the Buckeyes to victory. 

After a summer of hearing Johnson was ready to take a couple big leaps forward, he hasn't done that quite yet, shooting only 35.5% from the field and 35.0% from distance with 15 assists against 19 turnovers. You have to love his fearlessness (see the game-winner versus Seton Hall) and like Branham, I expect him to positively evolve as the season moves forward but the inconsistent shooting and upside-down assist-to-turnover ratio need work. 

It's nice Holtmann has three guys he can deploy alongside (and to occasionally spell) Wheeler, trying to maximize matchups, exploit a hot-hand etc. and Ohio State will be more dangerous as all three continue down their own development paths. 


After starting 26 of 27 games last year, all 25 two years ago and 65 of 108 career games before this season, Kyle Young has settled in quite nicely as Ohio State's sixth man. 

Certainly talented enough to again slot as a full-time starter, Young stands third on the team averaging 10.0 points per game and his 6.7 rebounds per contest slot just behind Liddell's team-leading 7.2. He's logging 21.7 minutes off the bench through nine games and is shooting 60.4% from the floor a scorching 47.4% from three-point land. 

Over his last seven outings, he's been even better, averaging 11 points and 6.9 boards per night while shooting nearly 62% from the field and almost 53% from distance. 

Yesterday against the Badgers, Young was all over the glass, pulling down a career-high 14 in 23 minutes. Against Towson last Wednesday he tossed in a season-high 18 points on the strength of a 4-for-6 night from beyond the arc. That performance came on the heels of a 16-point, seven-rebound effort against Penn State. 

Young's ability to observe the game's happenings from the bench and then plug and play where the team needs him is becoming quite a weapon for Holtmann's surging Buckeyes. 


A sore spot with many fans over the last few years has been Ohio State's seemingly high-volume of instances in which they blow second half leads, win or lose. 

We've already seen it a few times this year although Holtmann prefers to heavily downplay it. As recently as after the Duke win, he went out of his way to sub-tweet the fan base by talking about the fact the Blue Devils blew a 17-point second half lead in Ohio State's impressive win. 

I feel like both can be true: (1) the college landscape lends itself to teams seeing their leads evaporate as they struggle to stop a run and (2) Holtmann's squads have probably struggled with this more than most upper-tier programs. 

Yesterday however Ohio State was fantastic in the second half, taking a five-point advantage at halftime and extending it to the eventual 18-point win as they outscored the Badgers 39-26 over the final 20 minutes. 

Holtmann's defense held Wisconsin to 29% shooting in the second half, limiting Brad Davison to two points on 0-for-5 shooting after he hurt Ohio State in the first half with 11 points on 4-of-7 from the floor. 

On offense, the Buckeyes shot well all day but the difference in the second half was Ohio State committing just four turnovers after coughing it up ten times in the first half, giving the Badgers a 9-2 edge in points off turnovers. 


What an addition Jamari Wheeler has been to an Ohio State roster in desperate need of a legit distributor and a lock down perimeter defender. 

The dude is such a steady hand and yesterday was another showcase of that as he logged 30 minutes with nine points on 4-of-9 shooting with five boards and five assists against two turnovers.

With the trio of off-guards I spoke of above still finding their way, Wheeler's consistency has brought even more value. 

On the season, he's dished out 43 assists against 14 turnovers. For perspective, every other Buckeye with at least 14 assists has more turnovers than dimes. His 15 steals, good for second-best in the Big Ten, are seven more than any other teammate. In fact, his primary backcourt mates Meechie, Branham and Russell have 15 steals combined despite playing 201 more minutes. 

I'd love to see Wheeler be a little more aggressive in looking to score at times but there's no doubt he's got a great feel for running the offense and his ability to disrupt opposing offenses has helped Ohio State improve to No. 51 in Ken Pom's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings (pts allowed per 100 poss) after ranking No. 82 last year. 

For those appreciative of the "little things" that factor into winning, Wheeler's a guy to focus on during a game. 


Ohio State's offense currently ranks seventh in the country in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency rating, basically scoring 115 points per 100 possessions. 

This is largely due to hot shooting with the Buckeyes hitting 49.1% of their shots through 10 games, good for 18th in the nation and demonstrably better than last season's 45.9% clip. 

That kind of shooting could prove difficult to maintain so in order for Ohio State to stay efficient on offense, it must get a handle on the turnovers. 

Holtmann's crew slots 149th in the country with 18.1 turnovers per 100 possessions, up sharply from a season ago. The Buckeyes were really good with the ball in 2020-21 committing only 15.2 turnovers per 100 possessions, ranking 18th nationally. 

As great as E.J. Liddell has been for the Buckeyes, he's clearly adjusting to having the ball in his hands more. The team's MVP by a mile is averaging 3.3 turnovers per night after logging 1.6 per game last year. His assists are up to 2.7 from 1.8 but alas being upside on his assist-to-turnover ratio is something he's certainly working to improve. 

Meechie (1.9) and Branham (1.8) are the next two guys with opportunity to take better care of the ball. Their numbers aren't awful by any stretch but with both averaging about 21 minutes per game, they can put a higher premium on valuing the rock. By comparison, Wheeler is at 1.4 turnovers per game while playing over 29 minutes per contest. 

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