Column: How positionless basketball could work (or fail) for Ohio State this season

As we’ve learned over the course of five seasons, Chris Holtmann has been at the helm of the ohio state men’s basketball program, it is absolutely love Versatility. He likes having multiple players who can hold multiple positions, play different roles on offense and generally fill in where needed. His recruiting – especially lately – reflects that. But Ohio State looks set to fully embrace the “positionless basketball” theory in the 2022-23 season.

There was a massive diaspora of the 2021-22 Ohio State men’s basketball team for a myriad of reasons. Both Meechie Johnson and Justin Ahrens opted to transfer. EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham Head to 2022 NBA Draft. Cedric Russell, Jimmy Sotos, Joey Brunk, Kyle Young, Harrison Hookfin and Jamari Wheeler are all too old to play and no longer eligible. This year’s list will look like totally different with just five returning players.

But as the mass exodus unfolded, a wave of young talent and experienced transfers arrived simultaneously. Ohio State’s freshman class – who is No. 11 in the nation – features five players, four of whom are in the top 100 and two in the top 50. Then there are the two transfers that have joined the program – Tanner Holden and Sean McNeil.

NCAA Basketball: Horizon Conference Tournament - Northern Kentucky vs. Wright State

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The Buckeyes have amassed a fine collection of talent here, but how the pieces fit together is a little confusing. As it stands, Chris Holtmann has exactly one point guard on the roster – rookie Bruce Thornton. There are seven or eight players who occupy the two or three positions (shooter and small attacker):

  • Bowen Hardman (Redshirt is also a possibility)
  • Roddy Gayle
  • Brice Sensabaugh
  • The court continues
  • Towns of Seth
  • Gene Brown
  • Tanner Holden
  • Sean McNeil

Kalen Etzler is probably the only ‘true’ power forward on this list, but after a redshirt all season last year, there’s essentially a 0% chance he’ll start in that position – or anywhere. what position – this season. And then Zed Key and Felix Okpara are your low post players/centers.

So you have a strong center in Key, which went from 5.2 PPG in year one to 7.8 PPG in year two. I think he will make a similar leap in his junior season and should be a solid double-digit scorer this year.

You have a phenomenally talented young point guard at Thornton, although in first year there will be bumps and growing pains. There will be head-scratching mistakes and games where Ohio State fans will turn on him, even if only for a moment. But don’t worry, Thornton will be a very solid player. However, do we want to push a freshman to more than 30 minutes per game as a general on the ground? It’s not ideal.

And then, like I said earlier, you have about eight players who could start as full-backs or small forwards. Simple math says eights can’t start. But at this point, the Buckeyes only have one purse left. He won’t be a guard, so what you see is what you get with OSU’s point guard situation. He’ll probably be a power forward or a center, but we don’t know if he’ll end up being an impact player who starts right away, or more of a depth guy off the bench – at this point. stage of the game, my money is on the latter.

Which means yes, Ohio State is going to roll out some funky lineups this season that aren’t exactly on the book. Thornton won’t play 35 minutes a night, which means other players – who aren’t even a bit of a playmaker – will sometimes manage the rock.

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: JAN 17 Spalding Hoophall Classic

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Two seasons ago, when CJ Walker was injured, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Sueing was asked to run for a bit. It wasn’t a huge success, but it wasn’t a failure either. He did the job despite not being much of a creator for others. Certainly, it is more useful in other ways.

Holden primarily played as a small forward at Wright State, but most databases class him as a 6-foot-6, 175-pound shooter. Could he carry some of the point guard load when Thornton isn’t? Yeah, and I think Holden is one of the biggest candidates to do that despite his lack of experience before.

And then, at power forward, are Sueing, Towns or Brown the answer? Could it be Sensabaugh down the line? Ohio State doesn’t have a single player who truly fits the definition of a big, lethal (but relatively mobile) power forward. But someone It should start there, right? It could very well be the mystery transfer that gets this 13th scholarship. But until that place is filled, we have to work with what we have.

Right now, establishing a starting lineup is next to impossible without knowing what the coaching staff has in store for these guys. But if I had to guess, the most likely composition is:

  • Bruce Thorton
  • Sean McNeil
  • Tanner Holden
  • The court continues
  • Zed key

So in essence, you have a traditional playmaker, a traditional center, three guys who can slide back and forth from fullback to small forward, and no one who really looks like a true power forward.

West Virginia vs. Kansas

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Again, finding a starting formation on May 2 is about as easy as predicting the weather for Memorial Day weekend on May 2. But what’s abundantly clear is that the staff are confident that several players on this list are qualified enough to contribute to multiple roles – even if these are roles they’ve never played before. . This could lead to a really fun and explosive brand of basketball where top players thrive due to their versatility. Orhe could expose the positional holes on the roster as well as his youth.


Scenario 1: It works like a charm

Thornton is a perfect fit for college basketball and is averaging 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists (compared to just 1.7 turnovers) per game while averaging 27 minutes per game. Holden is averaging 17 points per game while playing primarily as a small forward, and Sueing is a second-team All Big Ten winner after averaging 16.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3 assists per game at the vanguard.

The team doesn’t have a great rebounder, but as a unit they crush glass well for their size. They rank somewhere between sixth and eighth in the Big Ten in rebounding and rarely spit the basketball out. When Thornton is away, Holden and Sueing share point guard duties. They don’t make a lot of assists between the two of them, but they take care of the basketball and pass half the court without incident more often than not, that’s all you can ask for. Ohio State finishes in the top four in the Big Ten and earns a 4th place finish in the NCAA Tournament largely due to its versatility.

Scenario 2: Teams expose Ohio State due to their size and lack of running backs

Thornton is off to a rocky start and has a 1:2 assist-to-rotation ratio through the first eight games of the season, including two lost to Ohio State. Thornton was benched in favor of Sueing, who slipped up to playmaker despite not being his natural position. Sensabaugh suddenly replaces Sueing as power forward, despite averaging just 4.2 points and 3 rebounds per game at this point in the season.

Teams start trapping and pressing Sueing at every opportunity, knowing he’s not playing his natural position. The Buckeyes begin turning the ball over at a frustrating rate, frequently giving up points on turnovers. Big Ten teams with big centers (Michigan, Purdue, etc.) bully Ohio State on the glass, especially on the offensive side. Things start to fall apart due to instability at point guard and the Buckeyes’ inability to keep people off the offensive glass. Ohio State battles their way to a 10-10 record in Big Ten play and earns a 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, setting them up to play a 1 seed in the second round. they advance.


I wouldn’t be shocked if the 2022-2023 season looked more like the first scenario. Several people have told me they think this year’s team might be Holtmann’s deepest yet, even though there isn’t a single player of Liddell or Branham caliber. Many people think that – as long as the coaching staff doesn’t complicate things too much – several players could step in as a point guard or move into a power forward position. I still think rebounding might be a problem, but the prevailing logic still holds true. Put your best players on the pitch and let the rest take care of itself. Texas technology has followed this model for the past few seasons, and they have been a resounding success. Villanova did the same under Jay Wright. Positionless basketball can absolutely work.

I also wouldn’t be shocked if the 2022-23 season plays out more like scenario two. Ohio State finished 12th in the Big Ten last year in both overall rebounding and offensive rebounding last season. To make matters worse, their best rebounder has now left for the NBA, and Ohio State hasn’t added an impact post player who can replace any of those rebounds. Holden and McNeil are good players, but they’re going to combine for what, a maximum of eight rebounds per game? Maybe Key averages six or seven, and Sueing does the same. The rebound could be a bigger problem than last season.

As we saw last season at times, letting teams dominate you on the glass saps a team’s energy and is emotionally draining when defensive saves are for naught as other teams keep corralling. their own failures. This question could be even more crucial than who plays point guard on any given day. Just run the ball halfway up the pitch without spitting it out – that’s the bare minimum and most players on this list can do it.

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