Ohio State men’s basketball enters a pivotal year for its future in the 2023-24 season.
The Buckeyes are fresh off a 16-19 campaign in 2022-23, their worst record by winning percentage since an 8-22 mark in Jim O'Brien's first season back in 1997-98. O'Brien's squad made a run to the Final Four the following year, something Ohio State would certainly love to replicate after picking up some momentum with a run to the semifinals of the Big Ten Conference Tournament to close last season.
There's talent to be found on Ohio State's roster, even with the departures of first-round NBA Draft pick Brice Sensabaugh, Justice Sueing and several other contributors from last season. Most of us it is unproven, however, making it an interesting challenge to determine which Buckeyes should be drafted first in picking lineups for a hypothetical head-to-head game of Buckeyes vs. Buckeyes.
Andy won the coin flip for our team draft this year, giving him the choice of who would make the first pick, which he decided to take. That gave Dan the second and third picks, after which we alternated two picks at a time to fill out our seven-man lineups picked from Ohio State’s 15-man roster for the 2023-24 season.
Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Felix Okpara and Jamison Battle, who are all expected to play pivotal roles for the Buckeyes this season, were the first four players off the board. Below, you can see who we took with each of our picks, followed by analysis written by the drafting writer 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, then cast your vote for who drafted the better lineup.
1. Bruce Thornton, PG (Andy)
The first overall selection in this draft didn't give me much pause. The offense ran through Thornton in the Big Ten Tournament and it will again this season. He already put up 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting in Ohio State's exhibition game against Dayton, and is likely to be a team captain again this year after earning that honor as a freshman last season.
2. Roddy Gayle, SG (Dan)
3. Felix Okpara, C (Dan)
Ohio State is likely to go as its sophomores go this season, so with Thornton off the board, I decided to snap up Ohio State’s other two second-year standouts. If Gayle and Okpara can play as well as they did at the end of their freshman seasons on a consistent basis during their sophomore seasons, both of them have the potential to be breakout stars in the Big Ten this year.
Gayle showed he could be a go-to scorer for the Buckeyes with his performance in last year’s Big Ten Tournament while Okpara has the skills to be the true difference-maker at center that Ohio State fans have been longing for.
4. Jamison Battle, PF (Andy)
5. Zed Key, C (Andy)
Battle was second on my big board, so I was very happy to scoop him up with the fourth pick overall. A proven 3-point shooter at Minnesota, I think there's a very good chance he's Ohio State's top scorer in 2023-24 given the threat he provides off the wing. That was a big hole the team needed to fill in the offseason and a specific reason why they brought him in through the portal.
Key brings more veteran leadership to my lineup and should prove to be a stronger defensive 5 after slimming down this offseason to guard more space on the floor. He's fresh off a season averaging 10.8 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds, so that edge in experience should hopefully negate some of Dan's talent with Okpara at center for his team.
6. Scotty Middleton, SF (Dan)
7. Dale Bonner, PG (Dan)
I was torn between drafting Middleton or Devin Royal with the No. 6 pick, as I expect both of them to make an immediate impact as freshmen, but sided with Middleton because of his defensive versatility. Middleton has the length and athleticism to play anywhere from forward to point guard, and I like his chances of becoming a starter by midseason with his ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor.
I wasn’t going to take the risk of allowing Andy to draft both of the Buckeyes’ true point guards, so I felt I had to use the seventh pick on Bonner, who is in line to be the primary ballhandler whenever Thornton isn’t on the court this season.
8. Evan Mahaffey, SF (Andy)
9. Taison Chatman, SG (Andy)
With my power forward position already filled, it was between Devin Royal and Mahaffey to play small forward in my lineup. While I'm a fan of Royal's upside, I think Mahaffey's defensive versatility and likelihood to see the floor much more as a veteran while Royal develops in his first collegiate season makes him the better option, particularly since he can help Battle out defensively.
That left shooting guard as the only hole for me to fill, so I scooped up Chatman, the highest-rated prospect in the 247Sports composite in Ohio State's 2023 recruiting class. Expect his role to expand as the season progresses after he recovers from an offseason procedure.
10. Devin Royal, F (Dan)
11. Austin Parks, C (Dan)
After nearly drafting Royal with the sixth pick, I was thrilled that Andy let him fall into my lap with the 10th pick. Royal’s ability to score from both forward spots reminds me of E.J. Liddell, and I believe he can make a similar impact as a freshman as Liddell, who tallied 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game off the bench in 2019-20.
The first 10 players chosen in this draft are likely to constitute Ohio State’s rotation this season, but I believe Parks is the most likely candidate to see playing time beyond those 10 as a backup center, so I chose him to be the first player off the bench. This is likely to be a developmental season for Parks, but he brings good size and physicality inside that could be useful for the Buckeyes in spurts this season.
12. Bowen Hardman, SG (Andy)
13. Kalen Etzler, PF (Andy)
Of the four options on Ohio State's roster that were left, Hardman and Etzler were the only two players on scholarship. Don't sleep on Hardman's ability to come off the bench and nail some triples, however – he sank 40 of 50 threes at Ohio State's Meet the Teams Night shooting competition to take home the title for the Buckeye men over the Buckeye women.
14. Colby Baumann, G (Dan)
Left to choose between Ohio State’s two walk-ons for the draft’s final pick, I went with Baumann to give my squad a backup guard after already using my first bench pick on a backup post player.
|Andy’s Team||Position||Dan’s Team|
|BRUCE THORNTON (1)||PG||DALE BONNER (7)|
|TAISON CHATMAN (9)||SG||RODDY GAYLE (2)|
|EVAN MAHAFFEY (8)||SF||SCOTTY MIDDLETON (6)|
|JAMISON BATTLE (4)||PF||DEVIN ROYAL (10)|
|ZED KEY (5)||C||FELIX OKPARA (3)|
|BOWEN HARDMAN (12)||BENCH||AUSTIN PARKS (11)|
|KALEN ETZLER (13)||BENCH||COLBY BAUMANN (14)|
The Case for Each Team
Modern basketball is more about offense than it is defense, and I have what I believe will be the two best offensive weapons on Ohio State's team this year, selecting them up with picks one and four. Thornton will be the singular cog that makes the Buckeyes' basket attack run while Battle is going to be a threat to put up some big scoring numbers from the wing, and he may be the best 3-point shooter among the team's starters.
Dan will try to convince you that he got a steal with Royal playing the 3, but I think Chris Holtmann is going to lean on the veteran, versatile defensive presence of Evan Mahaffey while Royal develops over the course of the season. This year, he's the better player for my lineup. Next year, perhaps not so much.
Key should pair nicely with Battle in my frontcourt, then I took some upside at shooting guard with Taison Chatman since Roddy Gayle and Dale Bonner were already off the table. Bowen Hardman and Kalen Etzler, the only two scholarship players left available at my final two picks, will come off my bench.
By landing Royal with the 10th pick, I believe I came away with five of Ohio State’s top eight players for the upcoming season. The sophomore pair of Gayle and Okpara and the freshman pair of Middleton and Royal (all top-70 overall recruits in their classes) collectively offer a ton of upside, while Bonner adds a steadying veteran presence with plenty of speed in the backcourt.
The ability to play both small and big is vital to winning in the Big Ten and succeeding in the NCAA Tournament, and the trio of Gayle, Middleton and Royal offers a great mix of defensive versatility and scoring skill. My team also has the advantage of post size with the team’s two biggest players (Okpara and Parks), while Holtmann has talked up Bonner as a guard who could make a substantial impact off the bench while playing a bigger role than he did at Baylor.