Both In Efficiency and In Total, Ohio State Basketball Seeing Far Fewer Contributions From Freshmen In 2023-24 vs. 2022-23

By Andy Anders on January 19, 2024 at 6:05 pm
Scotty Middleton

There are a lot of parallels between Ohio State’s basketball recruiting classes of 2022 and 2023.

Both recruiting classes finished No. 8 in the 247Sports team composite rankings. Both classes featured four prospects with three stars or more next to their names, with four four-stars in the 2022 collective and another three four-stars in 2023.

One similarity the two groups don’t share, however – at least not yet – is in first-year production. While Bruce Thornton, Brice Sensabaugh, Felix Okpara and even Roddy Gayle Jr. carved out major roles by the end of the year in 2022-23, the contributions of this year’s crop of Buckeye freshmen have ranged from so-so to negligible. Even if there have been flashes of more.

“I think they’ve all had some good moments,” Chris Holtmann said on Friday.

Indeed, Ohio State hasn’t needed to lean on its freshmen as much in 2023-24 as it did a year ago.

Sensabaugh, Thornton, Okpara and Gayle – the latter three of which are full-time starters for the Buckeyes this season – combined to start 78 games as first-year players in 2022-23. Thornton started all 35 contests that the team played.

With sophomore Evan Mahaffey and redshirt senior Jamison Battle filling out the other two spots in Ohio State’s regular starting lineup, no Buckeye first-year has opened a game on the court this campaign.

Then again, Sensabaugh wasn't a player called on to be a starter at the beginning of the season but demanded a bigger role as the year went on due to his prolific nature as a scorer. It guided him to become the 28th pick in the 2023 NBA draft after just one season. No freshman has stepped up in such a way to command a more important job this season.

Also, the freshmen’s production relative to the playing time they’ve isn’t to the caliber of last year’s group. Royal’s 12.7 points per 40 minutes is tops among his 2023 freshman class but would have been third among freshmen in 2022-23. Sensabaugh and Thornton averaged 26.6 and 13.9 points per 40 minutes that season.

Middleton is next among this year's freshmen with 11.1 points per 40 minutes.

Total Freshmen Contributions: 2022-23 vs. 2023-24
STAT 2022-23 2023-24
MPG 86.0 24.3
PPG 34.9 6.5
RPG 13.1 3.6
ApG 4.9 1.5
Bpg 2.1 0.6
SpG 2.3 0.4
Points per 40 minutes 16.2 10.7

In terms of usage, Middleton has been the only player from the four-man freshman group to see the floor eight minutes or more per game.

The first-year wing is eighth on Ohio State’s roster in terms of minutes, averaging 16.9 a contest. He’s found bigger roles on occasion, however, rotating in as the team’s sixth man against Wisconsin.

Middleton’s main offensive role has been as a three-point and mid-range sharpshooter. He’s hit 14 of his 35 attempts (40%) from beyond the arc this year, scoring 4.7 points per game in total.

“He’s done some good things on both ends, shot the ball well and given us a lift on defense,” Holtmann said. “He’s, obviously, been the one that’s gotten the most consistent minutes of that group.”

Royal is a player that’s shown flashes.

He only averages 7.6 minutes per game and the lone games that saw him on the floor for double-digit minutes were blowouts against Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and New Orleans. Royal’s acclimation to the collegiate ranks also suffered a setback when he missed two games with illness in the first two weeks of January.

Perhaps Royal’s best performance came against Michigan in the Buckeyes’ most recent game, however. In just seven minutes, he collected seven points on 3-of-5 shooting with three rebounds. Two of those boards came on the offensive end and Royal stuck both misses back for second-chance points.

“He’s gotta continue to grow defensively,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s the biggest challenge. He’s played always on the interior defensively, now he’s playing out on the perimeter and on the interior some. He’s working at it, but that’s probably been the biggest challenge for him, (that) and the speed of the game. But he’s a terrific rebounder and has done some things there.”

Chatman was the highest-rated of the bunch coming out of high school as the No. 33 prospect in the country and the No. 7 combo guard. Multiple injuries have kept him off the court for much of this season, however.

Six games, 21 minutes, three assists, two rebounds, four turnovers and no points on 0-of-2 shooting is how Chatman’s 2023-24 stat line reads. Still, his teammates see potential there.

“Every day, you kind of see him coming out of his shell,” Gayle said. “Normally Taison’s a quiet kid, so just him being more comfortable around the team and around us. Coaches believing in him, putting him in certain positions, especially during practices, like, ‘You see the plays that you’re making, now it’s just time for you to make those same plays during games.’”

Middleton, Royal and Chatman are the three freshmen that have been expected to make an impact for Ohio State before this season ends. Austin Parks, a three-star center prospect, is a bit buried at his position by sophomore starter Felix Okpara and senior Zed Key. Parks has one point and three rebounds in 15 minutes this campaign.

“We didn’t necessarily say this was gonna be the year for him,” Holtmann said. “Big kids (have slower development tracks), he’s playing behind two guys right now. But he’s shown some really good clips in practice. I’m really, really excited about Austin. ... He has a big frame, he can shoot it, he has a good feel.”

With Ohio State on a three-game skid, some extra contributions from its freshmen would be a welcome boost. Middleton, Royal and company get their next chance against Penn State on Saturday, with a noon tipoff on BTN.

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