Ohio State may need big contributions from ‘really exciting’ freshman class in 2023-24

For the first time since his second year as head coach at Gardner-Webb in 2011-12, Holtmann’s team won less than 20 games and finished with a losing record. And for the first time in 10 years, he missed the NCAA Tournament. Beyond that, but perhaps directly related to that, Holtmann had to rely more than ever on the strong contributions of real freshmen.

When the Buckeyes threw four freshmen on the road against Purdue on Feb. 19, it was the first time Holtmann had done so. In fact, he’s barely started three freshmen in the same game before that, and never before 2022-23. You could say that Malaki Branham finished his first 2021-22 campaign as Ohio State’s MVP, but his resounding success — and the Buckeyes’ faith in him — was something of an anomaly at this point. stadium.

Ohio State struggled mightily for most of January and February in a streak that torpedoed its season, and having multiple freshmen take on a heavy load was a definite factor. But by the end of the season, at which point Holtmann had practically turned the team over to freshmen, the Buckeyes’ rapid youthful progress seemed to be their greatest strength.

With Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle and Felix Okpara all set to return and improve ahead of next season, it’s safe to say Holtmann won’t need four freshmen to start in any game in 2023. -24. However, that doesn’t mean that one or more members of Ohio State’s sixth-ranked incoming national recruiting class won’t end up earning starting roles or becoming crucial performers for the Buckeyes.

“It’s an exciting class to build on this current class that we have.” – Chris Holtmann on the Class of 2023

If Ohio State hopes to dramatically reverse its fortunes in a single offseason, it might need it. At a minimum, the Buckeyes need the incoming class to accept the message and directive from the coaching staff, which Holtmann said took too long to happen last year.

“We have four new (incoming freshmen). Whether or not we add someone through the transfer portal or whatever, we have to get that message across,” Holtmann said during the Big Ten tournament. “I think the advantage is that we have really important guys who have been there and are coming back now who can talk about it and can live it. I’m not saying we didn’t last year, but it was just a new band last year.

Luckily for Holtmann, the Ohio State sophomores already seem determined to get the next group on the same page as soon as possible as they transition into leadership roles with a full season under their belts.

“I believe that us freshmen and returning players for next year need to establish a level of intensity early on. I don’t think we should be able to wait until February or March to play some of our best basketball,” Gayle said after Ohio State’s season finale. “I think that should happen in January, where I think we should be together already. With a decent number of comebacks next year, I think our chemistry will be much better. It’s up to people like Bruce, me , I have to step up a bit just to show freshmen and newcomers how we want to play.

Once acclimated, Ohio State’s Class of 2023 has enough talent to be just as impactful as the previous group. He may not have as many opportunities to do so, but the incoming freshmen actually hold a higher class ranking than the Class of 2022. The Class of 2023 includes three of the top 50 overall prospects from 247Sports: 6-foot-4 combo guard Taison Chatman (#36 overall), 6-foot-7 winger Scotty Middleton (#43) and Pickerington Central forward Devin Royale (#49) . The Buckeyes are also bringing in the fifth-ranked player in Ohio, 6-foot-11 center Austin Parks.

Asked about the group on 97.1 The Fan Monday, Holtmann first praised Royal, who earned Ohio Mr. Basketball honors on Wednesday as he tried to lead his high school to a second championship. Consecutive state this weekend.

“We have a really exciting class, as we’ve been talking about all year. Devin Royal is an exceptional type of wing-forward combo,” Holtmann said. “Just a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose player for Columbus. Playing in the last four this weekend, excited about his team’s progress. We think he’s going to be a very, very good player for us. He was a major target for us from day one and he was really excited about Devin.

Middleton hails from Sunrise Christian in Wichita, Kansas, and the nervous winger has the type of defensive reputation that could see him see the field immediately, even if his offensive skills still need polishing. Despite holding similar positions, Holtmann said Ohio State can play Middleton and Royal at the same time.

“Scotty Middleton is a 6-7, similar (to Royal), you can definitely play Devin and Scotty together. They’re just bigger, multi-dimensional attackers, Holtmann said. “Scotty has the ability to really defend multiple positions. He’s great from the side. You have exceptional length at 6-7.

This pair could be needed to play meaningful minutes early for Ohio State. The Buckeyes will lose sixth-year forward Justice Sueing this offseason, and freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh will likely head to the NBA draft. Add in outgoing senior guards Sean McNeil and Isaac Likekele, who both played all three positions in different rosters for Ohio State in 2022, and there could be plenty of minutes available up front.

Given how Thornton and Gayle ended the season, they believe they’ll have prohibitively locked in starting jobs in Buckeye’s backcourt by early next year. That might make it a little tougher for Chatman, Ohio State’s top-rated player in the class, to earn regular minutes right away. However, the loss of Sensabaugh and McNeil means the Buckeyes will be without two of their best 3-point shooters. Chatman has perhaps the most developed offensive game of any incoming Buckeyes rookie, and certainly ranks as the most capable long-range shooter.

“Taison Chatman is a combo guard who can really do a lot at combo guard,” Holtmann said.

As a three-star big man who will have to face returning centers Zed Key and Felix Okpara for a few minutes, Parks could struggle to buy much time from the start. But Holtmann has openly discussed plans to play Key and Okpara at the same time next year, suggesting the Buckeyes are open to using bigger lineups with three legitimate big men on the roster.

“(Parks) has a good size right now, he just has a really strong physical body,” Holtmann said. “He’s a good vertical athlete, he needs to get better at defending ball screens and that kind of stuff, but he offers us a big size, a physique. Really excited about this class.

Eugene Brown and Tanner Holden’s place in a potential 2023-24 line-up remains uncertain after the two veterans took on smaller roles than they might have imagined last season. Holtmann has made three transfer additions in each of the past two seasons, and depending on how things go with the roster, the Buckeyes could meet some of their needs with other portal additions this offseason.

But if the home stretch of the 2022-23 season is any indication, Ohio State is embracing a youthful movement as it reorganizes for the future. To that end, he may well find more success trusting another group of freshmen as Holtmann stacks his two best recruiting classes yet on top of each other this offseason.

“The next few months will be busy. … But it’s an exciting class to build on this current class that we have,” Holtmann said.


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