There’s only one domino left to fall for Ohio State’s 2023-24 roster.
Outside of Brice Sensabaugh’s final NBA draft decision, which he’ll have to make by the end of the month, the Buckeyes’ roster for the upcoming season should be complete. Excluding Sensabaugh, Ohio State is at the 13-player scholarship limit with no more outgoing transfers expected ahead of the season.
The Buckeyes brought in three transfer additions over the past month to pair with their four-man freshman class and six returning players from the 2022-23 roster. It’s possible Sensabaugh could make an unexpected decision by returning to school and unforeseen transfers could still arise. But while it’s not quite crystalline, the view of next year’s unit has become clear at the end of the first week of May.
In case you glossed over any offseason roster movement thus far, simply need a refresher or want to know how the newly formed Buckeye roster will fit together, we’ve got you covered with a full breakdown below, including a look at what a two-deep depth chart could look like come November.
Guard: Sean McNeil, Isaac Likekele, Tanner Holden, Eugene Brown
Forward: Justice Sueing, Brice Sensabaugh*
Since the end of the 2022-23 season, Ohio State has seen five total players officially depart from the program. Four of them were players who started at least one game last year. Perhaps most significant is the loss of veteran forward Justice Sueing, who finished his sixth season of college basketball as the Buckeyes’ second-leading scorer (12.3 points per game) and started all but three of Ohio State’s 35 games.
All three of Ohio State’s transfer portal additions from a season ago have now exited the program as well. Former West Virginia guard Sean McNeil and former Oklahoma State guard Isaac Likekele both exhausted their final seasons of eligibility in hit-or-miss campaigns in scarlet and gray in which each player started at least 15 games.
Wright State transfer forward Tanner Holden entered the Buckeye program with two years of eligibility remaining, but wound up in the portal once again this offseason after receiving fewer opportunities than most expected at Ohio State. Holden appeared in 27 games with the Buckeyes and averaged 3.6 points in 13.6 minutes per game.
Ohio State suffered another hit to its wing depth when Eugene Brown, who would have been a fourth-year Buckeye in 2023-24, transferred to Georgia Southern in late April. It was hardly a surprising decision, though, as Brown saw his role reduced to just 10 minutes per game as a junior – seven fewer than he saw on a per-game basis in 2021-22.
Assuming Sensabaugh stays in the draft, Ohio State will also lose its go-to scorer (16.3 points per game) and only All-Big Ten selection from a year ago.
Center: Zed Key
In the wake of Brown’s departure, 2020 classmate Zed Key is the lone returning senior on the roster for Ohio State in 2023-24. Considering both his veteran status and the injury that ended his junior year prematurely, Chris Holtmann has labeled this “a very critical offseason” for the Buckeye big man.
Key played the best basketball of his career through the first 13 games of last season, a stretch in which the Buckeyes went 10-3 while the New York native put up 13.4 points per game on 63.5% shooting and pulled down 8.4 boards a night. But in the 14th game of the season, Key suffered a shoulder sprain from which he would never fully recover.
In his final 12 appearances, during which Ohio State won just one game, Key’s numbers shrank to 8.1 points per game on 44.7% shooting and 6.6 rebounds. After aggravating his shoulder once again in mid-February, Key was shut down for the season and underwent surgery.
As a result, freshman center Felix Okpara came into his own late in the season, and Key must now battle back from injury and compete with a rising talent who looks to take a major step forward between his first and second seasons.
Guard: Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Bowen Hardman
Forward: Kalen Etzler (redshirt sophomore)
Center: Felix Okpara
Ohio State’s 2022-23 roster was chock full of freshmen, which led to plenty of growing pains throughout the season but also resulted in late success as the group found its collective footing down the stretch. Aside from Sensabaugh, all are expected to return in 2023-24.
Bruce Thornton was a fixture at point guard for the Buckeyes, finishing the year as the only player to start all 35 games. He exploded over the final 13 games of the season to average 14.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists as Ohio State found some momentum. He also became just the 10th freshman to ever earn a spot on the Big Ten All-Tournament team.
Roddy Gayle, the top-ranked recruit in Ohio State’s heralded 2022 class, had a relatively quiet year until the Big Ten Tournament. Gayle quickly came of age in the final three games of the season, in which he hit clutch shot after clutch shot to average 14.7 points and keep Ohio State alive in the Big Ten Tournament into the semifinals. Gayle started 10 of the final 11 games for the Buckeyes last season, and his eye-popping three-game run in Chicago may have been the tip of the iceberg for his ultimate potential.
Felix Okpara’s freshman season stats were modest, but in a starting role over the final nine games, the 6-foot-11 big man contributed to a 5-4 stretch for the team which included a 12-point, 12-rebound, three-block performance against Maryland.
Bowen Hardman returns for the Buckeyes after only receiving brief minutes in seven games as a true freshman and redshirt sophomore Kalen Etzler enters his third year in scarlet and gray after seeing his first official action across nine games in 2022-23.
Guard: Dale Bonner
Forward: Jamison Battle, Evan Mahaffey
Battle, a 6-foot-7 combo forward and high-volume 3-point marksman, should be the most significant addition in terms of immediate contributions. After starting his career at George Washington, Battle scored 15.1 points per game, hit 33.9% of his 3-point attempts and corralled 5.1 rebounds per game over the past two seasons at Minnesota. Battle’s size, scoring ability and long-range shooting will aid the Buckeyes in replacing the likes of Sueing, Sensabaugh and McNeil.
Ohio State’s other two transfer additions will likely play a lesser role in 2023-24, but important ones nonetheless. Bonner gives Ohio State’s young backcourt a veteran presence who brings leadership and experience over from a highly successful Baylor program. Mahaffey, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward, only averaged 2.8 points per game as a true freshman with the Nittany Lions, but the Buckeyes are high on his potential given the three years of eligibility he’ll have at Ohio State.
By grabbing two seniors (Battle and Bonner) and a sophomore (Mahaffey) out of the transfer portal, Ohio State can balance its need to win right away while still planning for the future.
Guard: Taison Chatman, Scotty Middleton
Forward: Devin Royal
Center: Austin Parks
For the second straight year, Ohio State brings in a loaded first-year class out of the high school ranks, although the Buckeyes won’t have to lean on freshman contributions quite as heavily as it did a season ago.
Ohio State adds three four-star, top-50 overall prospects in Taison Chatman (No. 39 overall), Devin Royal (No. 47) and Scotty Middleton (No. 48), and also signed a skilled big man for the future in three-star Ohio center Austin Parks (No. 179).
Chatman gives Ohio State a smooth long-range shooter and talented shot-maker at the combo guard position, even if Thornton and Gayle figure to play most of the minutes in the backcourt. Royal has a state championship pedigree and was named Mr. Ohio Basketball as a senior at Pickerington Central, and at 6-foot-7, 210 pounds, he possesses the versatility and physical edge to play either forward position. Middleton, a 6-foot-6 wing, may have the most potential to play right away based on his length and reputation as one of the best defenders in his class.
Unlike last year, when four freshmen started in the final stretch of the season for the Buckeyes, Ohio State may only need one first-year starter from the incoming class in 2023-24. But it’s still likely at least three of them will contribute in year one.
Given that we have yet to see Ohio State’s new ensemble in action, it’s safe to say any offseason lineup projection is subject to change ahead of the season. But as of now, there appear to be several near-certainties in the Buckeyes’ potential starting five.
|Position||First Unit||Size||Second Unit||Size|
|G||BRUCE THORNTON||6-2, 215||DALE BONNER||6-2, 170|
|G||RODDY GAYLE||6-4, 205||TAISON CHATMAN||6-4, 170|
|F||SCOTTY MIDDLETON||6-6, 180||EVAN MAHAFFEY||6-6, 200|
|F||JAMISON BATTLE||6-7, 225||DEVIN ROYAL||6-7, 210|
|C||FELIX OKPARA||6-11, 220||ZED KEY||6-8, 255|
If Thornton started every game as a true freshman, there’s little doubt he’ll be given the opportunity to do the same as a sophomore. And if Gayle continues to perform in practice the way he did in the Big Ten Tournament, he’ll be right alongside Thornton as Ohio State’s starting shooting guard. Despite having yet to play a game in scarlet and gray, Battle’s wealth of experience and scoring ability make him a sure bet to start at the wing right out of the gates.
Down low, Holtmann and company may have some soul-searching to do this offseason. Holtmann repeatedly discussed plans to play Key and Okpara at the same time in 2023-24 throughout this past season, but starting two predominantly low-post-based big men would make the Buckeyes something of an anomaly in college basketball – even if Key is working to expand his game to the outside. It seems more likely that only one of the two will start, and while they could switch off in that role throughout the year, Okpara’s potential growth over the offseason after finishing last year as the starter could give him a leg up.
That leaves one more vacant starting spot in the Ohio State lineup, which seems most likely to be occupied by either Middleton or Royal at the wing. Who gets the nod will be determined by just how game-ready one of the two is by the time the season starts and what Ohio State wants to prioritize in terms of style of play.
In the second unit, Bonner and Chatman are likely to come off the bench behind Thornton and Gayle in the backcourt. While Royal could just as easily become a starter sooner or later, he could add depth behind either Middleton or Battle at the three or four spot, and Mahaffey is likely to see consistent minutes in a reserve role on the wing as well. Key may very well begin the year as the Buckeyes' top center and end up logging more minutes than Okpara, but for now, we'll place him as Ohio State's backup big. That leaves Hardman, Etzler and Parks with an uphill battle to realistically crack the Buckeyes' regular rotation in the season to come.
After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the Holtmann era this past season, the pressure’s on to return to the Big Dance in 2023-24, and the roster in place to do so is all but finalized entering the summer.