Skull Session: OSU Loves to Recruit Florida, Brice Sensabaugh Will Test NBA Waters and Ezekiel Elliott Receives Pushback on Top-Three Teams List

By Chase Brown on March 28, 2023 at 5:00 am
Ryan Day

Ohio State women's basketball had its 2022-23 season come to an untimely end on Monday.

What an incredible season for the Buckeyes. They were fun to watch all year long. I'll talk about some of their accomplishments later, but first, I'll talk some Ohio State football, men's basketball and Ezekiel Elliott free agency news.

Let's have a good Tuesday, shall we?

 THE BUCKEYES *LOVE* FLORIDA. Since Jim Tressel took over as Ohio State football's head coach in 2001, the Buckeyes have created an annual battle strategy to land the top talent in Ohio so that they would continue their football careers in Columbus.

Back in the day, that approach led to players like Maurice Clarrett, A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., among others, choosing to play for the Buckeyes in the early to mid-2000s. Recently, it has produced talents such as Paris Johnson Jr., Cade Stover, Tommy Eichenberg, C.J. Hicks, Sonny Styles and Luke Montgomery.

But when Ohio State needs to look beyond Ohio to fill positions of need, where do they look? In a recent story for The Athletic, college football writer Manny Navarro answered that question, claiming the Buckeyes look for talent in the Sunshine State more than any other in the continental U.S. when it comes to the program's national recruiting efforts.

Here is a chart from Navarro's article that provides a warrant for his claim:

2023 20 7 35% FLORIDA, 4
2022 21 6 29% FLORIDA, 3
2021 24 6 25% 4 TIED WITH 2
2020 25 8 32% 5 TIED WITH 2
2019 16 5 31% GEORGIA, INDIANA, 2
2018 26 5 19% FLORIDA, 5
TOTAL 132 37 28% FLORIDA, 15

Navarro then explained the chart and its information:

The Buckeyes have signed four consecutive top-five classes and seven in the last eight years. Having a Big Ten-leading 42 players drafted, including 10 first-round picks, since 2018 helps. As much as Ohio State has reached across the country to pluck elite talent out of Florida, Georgia, California, Texas and Arizona, coach Ryan Day has continued to make keeping the best players in Ohio home a top priority. Ohio State has signed 37 players from its backyard in the last six cycles — 22 more than any other state.

Nine of the 11 top 100-players to come out of Ohio in the last four cycles stayed home and signed with the Buckeyes. The two who did not signed with Penn State: five-star quarterback Drew Allar and four-star receiver Kaden Saunders. That’s not to say Florida hasn’t become an important pipeline. The Buckeyes have signed seven blue-chip prospects from the Sunshine State over the last two cycles. They signed three combined from Florida from 2019 through 2021. Texas (nine signees since 2018) and Georgia (eight) have become minor feeder states.

Three of the four commitments in the 2024 class are blue-chip recruits, headlined by five-star receiver Jeremiah Smith of Hollywood (Fla.) Chaminade. The transfer portal usage, meanwhile, has picked up only slightly in the last two cycles. Ohio State’s 16 transfer additions in the last six cycles is one off the pace for the fewest in the league.

To provide even more context to Navarro's work, the nine top-100 players from Ohio in the last four cycles to choose the Buckeyes were Johnson, Jack Sawyer, Mike Hall Jr., Reid Carrico, Jayden Ballard, Hicks, Styles, Jermaine Mathews and Montgomery. In that same period, Ohio State's Florida recruits – some top 100, some not – were Kenyatta Jackson, Ryan Turner, Kye Stokes, Brandon Inniss, Carnell Tate, Cedrick Hawkins and Bryson Rodgers.

I don't know about you, but I think all those players are pretty good!

Well, let me put it this way. After three years in Columbus, Johnson proved himself worthy of a first-round pick in the NFL draft, while Sawyer and Hall flashed that talent in their first two seasons. As for the rest of the players, those opportunities lie ahead of them based on their potential out of high school.

That said, I am a believer in the Ohio to Ohio State and Florida to Ohio State pipelines. Of course, the first will always be there, but the second is no guarantee. If Jackson, Stokes and the rest of the Floridians turn out to be as some of the Ohioans have, then recruiting in the Sunshine State could be a prosperous endeavor for years to come.

 COME ON IN. THE WATER'S FINE. Brice Sensabaugh declared for the 2023 NBA draft on Saturday with the option to return to Ohio State. The Orlando, Florida, native averaged a team-best 16.3 points per contest and made 48% of his shots from the field with a 42.5% clip from behind the arc.

All year long, Sensabaugh proved himself to be Ohio State's top option offensively, as he consistently made open looks and even heavily-contested jumpers en route to 11 regular-season 20-point performances for the Buckeyes. He also proved his athleticism on more than one occasion, making several acrobatic layups and over-the-rim dunks, including the immortalized poster dunk on Illinois' Matthew Mayer.

Still, Sensabaugh's freshman season at Ohio State was far from perfect. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward struggled defensively and found himself in foul trouble consistently, mainly due to that lack of defensive effort.

While his rebounding improved as the year continued, the same could not be said of his passing. Sensabaugh surpassed three assists only once this past season and collected only 38 total in his 33 appearances – a number that stands in stark contrast to the 67 turnovers he committed in that same span.

That said, what awaits Sensabaugh as he tests the NBA waters?

As it stands, Sensabaugh is a potential first-round pick. Here are a few mock drafts that have him landing anywhere between 15 and 25 in the draft: Sam Vecenie of The Athletic (No. 17, Golden State Warriors), Jonathan Givony of ESPN (No. 18, Golden State Warriors), Kyle Boone of CBS Sports (No. 24, Los Angeles Lakers), Gary Parrish of CBS Sports (No. 11, Orlando Magic), Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report (No. 20, Miami Heat).

Of course, Sensabaugh could increase or decrease his stock at the NBA Combine in mid-May, but considering most of the workouts he will complete are based in offensive skills, I expect Sensabaugh to flourish and capture the attention of coaches, scouts and executives in attendance.

If for some reason Sensabaugh doesn't shine at the combine, what awaits Sensabaugh if he returns to Columbus? The short answer: A team that would love to have him. The long answer: Should Sensabaugh come back to Ohio State for another season, he would be one of the focal points, if not the focal point, of a Buckeyes squad that will possess players from back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes nationally.

As a frequent viewer of the Basketbucks, I sincerely hope Sensabaugh chooses to wear scarlet and gray for another season. His presence next to Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr., Felix Okpara and the added bodies of Taison Chatman, Devin Royal and Scotty Middleton would be scary, scary, scary. I won't hold out too much hope for it to happen, but one can hope, at least.

 NOT A TWO-WAY STREET? Last week, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott had narrowed his free agency options to three teams: The Cincinnati Bengals, the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles.

However, once Monday of this week arrived, Schefter's tweet felt less and less accurate. And to be clear, that's not Schefter's fault. As the day continued, it became evident that the Bengals, Eagles and Jets are Zeke's top three options, but that doesn't necessarily mean those franchises ever reciprocated that affection.

In a Monday morning press conference, Jets head coach Robert Saleh was asked about his team's interest in Zeke. His response doesn't provide much confidence that Elliott will suit up in white and green in the Big Apple in 2023.

Saleh's comments came shortly after Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, albeit with a little more of an open-ended approach than Saleh, seemingly cut off Elliott's path toward wearing orange and black stripes next to Joe Burrow next year.

“There’s a lot of great players that are available right now,” Taylor told Mike Dyer of WCPO 9 in Cincinnati. “We like our team as where it’s at right now. But it’s always funny when things get thrown around. Sometimes, it’s the first you hear of it. But that’s just the way life works.”

The last team left on Elliott's wish list was the Eagles. As of now, there has been no official comment from the Philadelphia organization about its interest in the former All-Pro running back – just some cryptic tweets from Lane Johnson and Darius Slay.

It's interesting to see teams that Zeke has expressed interest in not have the same interest in him. A few years ago, he was one of the league's best running backs, but oh how the turntables. The NFL stands for "Not For Long," as they say, and after a few seasons with a decline in production, the league appears to have forgotten what Elliott is capable of when fully healthy and ready to roll.

Hopefully, when this free agency saga finally ends, Elliott lands somewhere that will value him for what he can truly offer. While he's not the same player he was in his early seasons with the Cowboys, I wholeheartedly believe he has plenty of miles left in the tank that could be the secret sauce toward a postseason push for any contending NFL team. We'll see if coaches, scouts and front-office executives feel the same in the next few weeks.

 HAT TIPS ALL AROUND. As I mentioned at the start of the Skully, Ohio State women's basketball had its 2022-23 season come to an end on Monday, and, man, what a year it was for the Buckeyes. Before I wrap this article up, I wanted to recap some of the many accomplishments of this year's Ohio State team:

I have a feeling the future is very, very bright in Columbus – I can't wait to see what it holds.

And one more note: Ohio State softball defeated Michigan, 8-7, on Monday. The one-run victory marked the Buckeyes' second win in a three-game series with the Wolverines. It also clinched the program's first series win against their rivals from the north in 33 years. That's pretty cool!

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Take Back the Night" by Justin Timberlake.

 CUT TO THE CHASE. Queen Elizabeth II asked Germany for pricey horses... Greenland to stay in daylight saving time forever... Final Four newcomers: Grab your name tag at the door... Caitlin Clark is perfect player at perfect time for women's basketball... The World Baseball Classic proved baseball can indeed be very lit.

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