There are far more unknowns than knowns surrounding the Ohio State men’s basketball roster entering the 2022-23 season. That makes our annual exercise of drafting lineups for a head-to-head game of Buckeyes vs. Buckeyes all the more fun, albeit challenging.
Unlike last year, when E.J. Liddell was the clear-cut No. 1 pick and there was seemingly at least some clarity on who the Buckeyes’ top players would be – though not everything turned out the way we envisioned (see: Meechie Johnson Jr. being drafted ahead of Malaki Branham) – there’s very little clarity on who Ohio State’s top players will be this season, as the Buckeyes return only two players (Zed Key and Eugene Brown III) who played in more than two games for Ohio State last year.
That said, the 2022-23 Buckeyes don’t lack for talent. Justice Sueing is back after missing all but the first two games of last season with an injury while Tanner Holden, Sean McNeil and Isaac Likekele all arrive as transfers after playing major roles for their previous teams. Roddy Gayle, Bruce Thornton, Felix Okpara and Brice Sensabaugh are all highly touted freshmen who were ranked within the top 65 prospects in the 2022 recruiting class.
With the Ohio State men’s basketball season set to unofficially begin next Tuesday with an exhibition game against Chaminade and officially begin the week after (Nov. 7) with the regular-season opener against Robert Morris, it’s time for us to pick our lineups for the upcoming season.
The draft was conducted in a snake format, which means each selector made back-to-back picks following the No. 1 overall pick, with Dan choosing to take the No. 1 pick – giving Griffin the second and third picks – after winning the coin toss. No restrictions were placed on who could be drafted where, and all 14 current team members – including walk-ons Colby Baumann and Owen Spencer – were eligible for selection.
Our picks are below followed by analysis written by the drafter for why we made the selections we did. (You can also listen to this week’s Real Pod Wednesdays to hear us make our picks as we made them.) Beneath the picks, you can read each of our arguments for why we think our teams would win and cast your vote for who drafted the better lineup.
1. Zed Key, C/PF (Dan)
I chose to take the first pick after winning the coin toss because I felt more certain about who I would take with the No. 1 pick than who I would take with the No. 2 pick. Key is by far the most-known commodity entering the season, and he will be vital to the Buckeyes’ success this season as their only true post player with collegiate experience. While he doesn’t have the same skills away from the basket as Liddell, he has been working hard to become a more complete player and will be a top scorer, rebounder and defender for Ohio State this season.
2. Justice Sueing, F (Griffin)
3. Bruce Thornton, PG (Griffin)
Sueing was the top player on my draft board, so Dan's selection of Key allowed me to scoop up the Buckeyes' potential best player and leading scorer in 2022-23. Of course, what Sueing is able to accomplish hinges largely on whether or not he can remain healthy after missing all but two games last season, and if he's improved from when last we saw him on a consistent basis in 2020-21. But by all accounts, Sueing is raring to go and looks better than ever, so I'm feeling good about getting him with the No. 2 pick.
With my second pick, I took who I believe to be the most game-ready freshman and the first-year Buckeye who Holtmann and company will ask to do the most right off the bat. Thornton can knife into the paint at will off the dribble, is a consistent 3-point shotmaker and possesses all the intangibles of a true floor general. I expect Thornton to finish his first year as one of the most important players on the Buckeye roster.
4. Tanner Holden, SG (Dan)
5. Brice Sensabaugh, SF (Dan)
After averaging more than 20 points per game last season at Wright State, Holden is one of the leading candidates to be Ohio State’s top scorer this year. While he shouldn’t be expected to be as productive in the Big Ten as he was in the Horizon League, his length, athleticism, shooting ability and slashing ability should all translate to playing at a higher level, and his three years of collegiate starting experience will be invaluable on a team that is mostly inexperienced.
Sensabaugh also seems likely to be one of Ohio State’s top scorers this year after reportedly leading the team in scoring in both of its Bahamas games and in its secret scrimmage against Wake Forest. Both an explosive athlete and a strong 3-point shooter, Sensabaugh might be the most naturally gifted player on this year’s roster, and I expect him to make plenty of noise as a freshman.
6. Sean McNeil, SG (Griffin)
7. Isaac Likekele, PG (Griffin)
I snagged the potential best 3-point shooter on the Buckeye roster in McNeil, the West Virginia transfer who averaged 12.2 points per game for the Mountaineers last season. McNeil won Ohio State's own 3-point shooting contest at its Buckeyes on the Blacktop event earlier this month and knocked down several long-range shots in Ohio State's open practice. Paired with Sueing and Thornton, my lineup will certainly be able to stretch the floor from the outside.
I could've gone bigger with the seventh overall pick, but Likekele's capable of playing anything from point guard to power forward this season, and Holtmann even had the Oklahoma State transfer guarding Key during one stretch in the Buckeyes' open practice. Likekele's versatility opens the door to a number of possibilities for my squad, which now has the three players most likely to play the most point guard for Ohio State this year.
8. Roddy Gayle, G (Dan)
9. Felix Okpara, C (Dan)
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little blindsided by Griffin drafting both McNeil and Likekele after already drafting Thornton, but I was happy to be able to draft both Gayle and Okpara.
Gayle was the highest-rated recruit among Ohio State’s new freshmen, and Chris Holtmann recently said he believes Gayle could have the highest ceiling among them. He has the versatility to play all over the floor, though he becomes my point guard by default, and gives my roster yet another player with the potential to be a double-digit scorer for the Buckeyes.
Since Griffin snagged both of the true point guards on the roster, I had to counter by drafting both of the true big men, giving my team a decided advantage in the post. Okpara might already be the best shot-blocker on the roster, and a Key/Okpara pairing in the paint will be difficult for Griffin’s much smaller team to defend.
10. Eugene Brown, F (Griffin)
11. Kalen Etzler, PF (Griffin)
I was hoping I could still take Okpara here, assuming Dan would elect to take Brown rather than load his starting lineup with two true centers. Alas, I was wrong. With Okpara off the board, I had to lean into the positionless versatility of my lineup in drafting a deceptively big Brown, who stands at 6-foot-7 and can play two through four for the Buckeyes. The junior's defensive prowess will allow him to guard multiple positions, and his offense might just surprise people this season.
Etzler is the closest thing to a real big man I've drafted so far, and the 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman gives me a body to throw at Key and Okpara down low. Etzler had bulked up over the last year, has plenty of athleticism around the rim and can even step out to knock down an occasional 3-point shot.
12. Bowen Hardman, SG (Dan)
13. Colby Baumann, PG (Dan)
With Key and Okpara secured to man the post and Sensabaugh and Holden also having the size to play in the frontcourt, I prioritized backcourt depth with my last two picks. Both players are skilled shooters who can give my team a spark of 3-point shooting ability off the bench, with Baumann providing another option to run the point in smaller lineups.
14. Owen Spencer, PF (Griffin)
Welcome aboard, Owen. If there was one weakness on my roster, it was a lack of bigs, and at 6-foot-9, 215 pounds, the Buckeye walk-on will be the biggest player on my team. Neither Etzler nor Spencer will start for my group as I opt to lean on my backcourt advantage and size on the wings, but both will have to play to help slow Dan's two towers inside.
|RODDY GAYLE (8)
|BRUCE THORNTON (3)
|TANNER HOLDEN (4)
|SEAN MCNEIL (6)
|BRICE SENSABAUGH (5)
|JUSTICE SUEING (2)
|ZED KEY (1)
|ISAAC LIKEKELE (7)
|FELIX OKPARA (9)
|EUGENE BROWN (10)
|BOWEN HARDMAN (12)
|KALEN ETZLER (11)
|COLBY BAUMANN (13)
|OWEN SPENCER (14)
The Case for Each Team
In Sueing, I have the best player on the Buckeye roster – at least at this juncture. In Thornton and Likekele, I have Ohio State's two point guards and potential best passers, and the latter's versatility will allow me to tinker with some matchups. In McNeil, I have the Buckeyes' best 3-point shooter. In short, the backcourt advantage resides firmly on my side in a game that's become increasingly dictated by guard play.
Dan may have both true centers on the Ohio State roster, but Holtmann himself said at Big Ten Media Days that the Buckeyes would be an outlier in college basketball if they were to play two centers at the same time this season. Not to mention, I still have four players who stand at least 6-foot-7 (two more than Dan), with several of my players possessing the ability to guard multiple positions.
Plus, Okpara's offensive repertoire still needs development, and Key could be in trouble if forced to match up with a more agile opponent like Sueing, Likekele or Brown on defense.
Between Key, Holden, Sensabaugh and Gayle, my team is likely to include four of Ohio State’s top seven scorers this season – and they could easily be four of the top five or six. Key and Okpara give my team a sizable advantage in the paint, which will force Griffin’s squad to settle for more lower-percentage shots.
I’m betting big on freshman upside with three of them in my starting lineup, but all of them were high four-star recruits were for a reason, and we saw how quickly Branham became a focal player for the Buckeyes last season. And they’ll be able to lean on two proven veterans in Key and Holden, who could prove to be Ohio State’s two best players this season with their ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor.