The initial plan was to add size to the Buckeye frontcourt with the final scholarship spot for the 2022-23 season.
Ohio State had already signed two transfer guards this offseason, with Wright State transfer Tanner Holden and West Virginia transfer Sean McNeil both joining the scarlet and gray in April. But ultimately, Chris Holtmann and company opted to pursue a third guard out of the transfer portal, landing a commitment from Oklahoma State transfer Isaac Likekele on Wednesday, and the fit makes plenty of sense for Ohio State.
My next chapter.. THE Ohio State University & Team 124 pic.twitter.com/QcT567e4AI— B1G IC3 (@_Issaaac) May 4, 2022
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard brings a unique set of skills to the table in the Buckeye backcourt as a player who can run the point and facilitate offense for others but also post up down low, rebound the ball at a high rate and defend multiple positions. There aren’t many players around the country that can be a legitimate primary ballhandling option while also possessing the ability to play power forward in a four-guard lineup is necessary, and that’s a big reason why Holtmann and the Ohio State staff is excited about what Likekele brings to the table.
A four-year veteran in Stillwater, Likekele averaged 8.9 points, 3.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game in 114 appearances (including 110 starts) for the Cowboys. Last season specifically, Likekele put up 7.1 points, 3.4 assists and 5.5 rebounds in a stat line that speaks to the wide-ranging impact he could have on the floor for the Buckeyes.
|C||–||ZED KEY||–||FELIX OKPARA|
|PF||SETH TOWNS (7TH)||–||–||KALEN ETZLER (RS)|
|SF||JUSTICE SUEING (6TH)||–||–||BRICE SENSABAUGH|
SEAN MCNEIL (5TH)
|PG||ISAAC LIKEKELE (5TH)||–||–||BRUCE THORNTON|
Likekele isn’t exactly a dead-eye shooter, having knocked down just 18.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, 53.6 percent of his free throws and 43.7 percent of his shots from the floor overall last season, but he remains an asset in a multitude of ways nonetheless.
The recent addition of McNeil, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard who committed to Ohio State on April 24, might actually supplement the things that Likekele doesn’t excel at on the hardwood. While Likekele has never averaged more than 0.8 3-point attempts per game for a full season, McNeil averaged nearly five three attempts a game and knocked down 36.8 percent of them this past season while averaging 12.2 points per game in both of the last two years.
Perhaps most important about the addition of Likekele is his wealth of experience and ability to play point guard, given the fact that incoming true freshman Bruce Thornton remained the lone pure point guard on the Buckeye roster prior to Wednesday. Thornton, the No. 42 overall recruit in the class of 2022, may still win Ohio State’s starting point guard job, but with Likekele on the roster, he won’t be forced into a large role right off the bat if he isn’t ready for it.
The presence of Likekele also means Holden, McNeil and Justice Sueing may no longer be on the hook to handle primary ballhandling duties, which they appeared likely to do in the absence of another point guard outside of Thornton.
In a college game that has become increasingly dominated by guard play and small ball lineups, Likekele will only aid in Ohio State’s ability to play small and somewhat positionless on the perimeter.
Despite losing Malaki Branham to the NBA, Meechie Johnson and Justin Ahrens to the transfer portal and Jamari Wheeler, Cedric Russell and Jimmy Sotos to exhausted eligibility, Ohio State has done well to replenish its backcourt in the offseason. Aside from the additions of Likekele, Holden and McNeil in the transfer portal, the Buckeyes bring in Thornton, four-star shooting guard Roddy Gayle, four-star guard/forward Brice Sensabaugh and three-star guard Bowen Hardman in its 2022 recruiting class.
But the fifth member of Ohio State’s incoming freshman class also had something to do with the direction the Buckeyes opted to go with their final transfer portal pickup. Felix Okpara, an athletic 6-foot-11 center and the No. 52 prospect in the country, now figures to play an important role for Ohio State in just his first season as he and junior forward/center Zed Key will be the only true big men on the roster next year.
Given the departure of E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young and Joey Brunk, Key will be expected to log a lot of minutes for Ohio State, but last year proved that certain defensive assignments in the Big Ten don’t always suit the sensibilities of the 6-foot-8, 245-pound big. With Okpara possessing a slighter build and perhaps being more fleet of foot, the Buckeyes have two different body types to lean on heavily in the frontcourt.
Having one more reliable big man option on the roster would certainly not be a bad thing for the Buckeyes, but before Likekele’s commitment, they had needs at two different positions with only one roster spot left. Likekele fills one of those, and Ohio State now knows exactly what it will be working with heading into next season, despite losing a whopping 10 players from this past season’s roster.