Justice Sueing’s Return Could Be Crucial For Ohio State, But Questions Remain After He Missed Almost All of the 2021-22 Season

By Griffin Strom on April 9, 2022 at 8:35 am
Justice Sueing
Nicolas Galindo/The Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

If all went according to plan last season, Justice Sueing would have likely had a very different offseason announcement to make right about now.

The California transfer forward was expected to make a leap in his fifth season of college basketball after getting his first full year of Big Ten basketball under his belt in 2020-21. Sueing was expected to be the Buckeyes’ second option on offense behind E.J. Liddell to start the season. Had he performed well in a starring role for Ohio State, Sueing would likely be pursuing a professional basketball career right now.

But those plans were dashed before the season could truly get underway.

Sueing played just 31 minutes across the first two non-conference matchups of the season in early November before spending the rest of the year on the sideline, rehabbing from an abdominal injury that had plagued him since the previous March. For much of the year, there was hope the 6-foot-7 forward would return to the fold to help boost the Buckeye roster down the stretch. But by the time the final weeks rolled around, those hopes faded despite the absence of an official announcement that he would be out for the season.

For that reason, Sueing’s decision on whether or not to return to Ohio State for a sixth year became all the more interesting once the season concluded with the Buckeyes’ second-round NCAA Tournament exit. It seemed likely Sueing would come back for another year, given that he has played just one season out of the three he has spent in Columbus up until now, but nothing was guaranteed heading into the offseason.

In fact, just a day before he announced that he’d be back with the Buckeyes, Sueing added some suspense to the process by telling CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein that “no other decisions” had been made beyond the fact that he’d be playing another year of college hoops in 2022-23.

Any such last-minute surprises were avoided, though, as Sueing said on social media Thursday that he “can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be” and has “unfinished business” with the Buckeyes.

On paper, Sueing’s return figures to give the Buckeyes a major lift next season. The timing of Sueing’s announcement makes it particularly relieving for Ohio State, after its two top stars – E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham – each entered the NBA draft within the past couple of weeks.

The third-leading scorer on Ohio State’s 2020-21 roster, Sueing averaged 10.7 points per game to trail only Duane Washington Jr. (16.4) and Liddell (16.2). With both of those players now gone from the program, and Branham all but certainly out the door as well, the title of first option on the Buckeye offense is up for grabs next season.

As things stand, the returning scoring leader for Ohio State would be Zed Key, who averaged 7.8 points per game for the Buckeyes last season. After that, it falls all the way down to Meechie Johnson Jr., who would be Ohio State’s second-leading scorer among returning players with just 4.4 points per game in 2021-22.

The Buckeyes have already gone into the portal to try and address some of the scoring load they will be losing, as Wright State transfer guard Tanner Holden committed to Ohio State last Saturday. The Wheelersburg, Ohio native averaged 20.2 points per game for the Raiders, an NCAA Tournament team last season, although the type of production he’ll be able to mount is still in question due to the step up in competition.

Still, at 6-foot-6 and with a penchant for making plays on the glass, Holden is an intriguing wing player to pair with Sueing, whose own versatility to play anywhere from point guard to power forward is perhaps his biggest strength. But neither one has experience as the go-to guy on offense for a Big Ten team.

Ohio State will likely need to pull another legitimate offensive playmaker out of the portal this offseason to address that concern, or else the Buckeyes run the risk of relying too heavily on the potential contributions of an incoming freshman class that ranks No. 5 nationally. The Buckeyes are bringing in four four-star prospects and another three-star recruit, but even though two of them rank inside the nation’s top 50 overall players (Bruce Thornton and Felix Okpara), none should individually be expected to make a major scoring impact straight out of the gate.

Sueing should make an impact beyond just scoring, as the 215-pound forward was the Buckeyes’ second-leading rebounder two years ago and was at times their primary ballhandler, a role Holtmann seemed to like him in last offseason.

But Sueing will have to be healthy to bring any of that to the table next season, let alone be depended on as the team’s top player. He may have started every game that Ohio State played in 2020-21, but Sueing has still been sidelined for two of his past three seasons for one reason or another.

Sueing transferred from Cal to Ohio State in 2019, when players were still required to sit out a season before taking the court for their new team. In January of 2020, Sueing suffered ligament damage to his left foot that required surgery, and the Hawaii native wasn’t cleared to return to action until seven months had passed.

Sueing recovered just fine from that ailment, but he’ll need to do so again after dealing with an abdominal issue for more than a year. For his return to be as impactful as many believe it will be, Sueing will not only have to be healthy, but also display an improved version of the player we last saw in 2020-21, given the talent that's leaving the roster this offseason.

That may be a lot to ask for given the time off, but Sueing’s upside certainly makes his return good news for Ohio State going into the 2022-23 campaign.

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