The story of last year’s Ohio State basketball team is well documented: the coaching transition was mistimed, the exodus of players was disastrous, and the expectations were less than meager.
No one enjoyed seeing Thad Matta’s tenure end the way it did, with his first and only sub-2-win season and a first-round loss in the Big Ten Tournament to Rutgers.
But 25 wins later, including top-five opponents, and a much-missed trip to March Madness—not to mention the resurgence of Big Ten Player of the Year and Matta recruit Keita Bates-Diop—people had found a renewed enthusiasm for Buckeye basketball. (As much as that ever amounts to around here, anyway.)
The toxicity that had (reportedly) seeped into the locker room with certain players was gone. Bates-Diop was certainly a star, but he was still very much just one piece of a well-oiled machine and was valuable as much for his defense and rebounding as anything else.
There were some downs. Five of the team’s nine losses came to Penn State and Gonzaga, and two of those five ended their conference and national tournament runs respectively.
Still, the definition of success has, for better or for worse, changed. Funny how that works—the winningest coach in program history hits a two-year skid, misses postseason play one time, and loses his job; new guy waltzes in, gets bounced in the second round of the NCAAs, and everyone says he overachieved. But that’s sports.
This is where an article like this would ordinarily shift gears and start introducing the reader to the current roster and mete out some responsible predictions for the upcoming season.
The truth is that predictions are for entertainment purposes only. No writer alive has any greater ability than another to meaningfully forecast what’s going to happen. And when predictions are wrong, nobody really cares.
So here are some wildly optimistic declarations, some truly beefheaded prognostications, some pie-in-the-mesosphere eye-poppers. Here are the sporting sport fan’s best bets for the 2018-2019 Ohio State men’s basketball season.
Musa Jallow will be named All-Conference…
The 6-5 sophomore was 17 years old at the start of last season and still managed to impress. With KBD the focal point, Jallow was largely used as a chess piece, occupying space and providing match-up challenges for the opposition. This time around, Holtmann will take Jallow out of the packaging, and the sophomore will answer the bell as the team’s new do-everything jack-of-all-trades. Expect a double-figure scoring average and about half a dozen rebounds and assists each game.
Kaleb Wesson will average a double-double…
The book on the former Westerville star last year was that he was out of shape. You don’t expect an NBA body in a college freshman, but opponents knew to keep him moving. He’d get tired, he’d chase, he’d foul—then he’d sit. Despite those challenges, he averaged just over 10 points per game. A year later and a couple sacks of potatoes lighter, Wesson will be the bully and find himself leading the team in scoring and rebounding both to the tune of about seventeen points and twelve boards a night.
Luther Muhammad will be named Freshman All-Conference…
Muhammad is a smooth wing out of Jersey City with a versatile game and a pernicious defensive approach. He’ll start the season coming off the bench, but come February, he’ll be playing more than 20 minutes a night and work his way into the starting five. His conference numbers will be about twice that of his early season output, and people will wonder if he’ll declare for the NBA draft.
Ohio State won’t lose a game until 2019…
There are some decent challenges on the early slate: a trip down I-71 to face Cincinnati in the season opener, Syracuse in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and UCLA in Chicago top the list. Conference play also gets going earlier than in the past, but the Buckeyes will handle Minnesota and Illinois just fine. They will be undefeated overall heading into their first game of the new year, a January 5th home tilt against Michigan State.
The Buckeyes will make the Elite Eight
Most outlets are picking this team to finish eighth in the conference. Right number, wrong application. After drawing a four seed in the tourney, Ohio State will win its first three games and find itself in the regional finals against the team they faced to start the season: the Cincinnati Bearcats.
No idea what’ll happen from there, though. Your guess is as good as mine.
The Basketball Bucks play five games at the Schott this month, including the opener with Purdue Fort Wayne (11.11), and a four-game home stretch with South Carolina State (11.18), Samford (11.20), Cleveland State (11.23), and Syracuse (11.28). For more, visit ohiostatebuckeyes.com.