Basketball season around the country came to an abrupt end last month due to the outbreak of COVID-19. For Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann and his Buckeye basketball team, the canceling of the conference and NCAA tournaments halted considerable momentum for a team that was heading into the postseason having won six of its last eight games.
Unable to have previously provided any sort of closure to the 2019-20 Buckeye basketball team, Holtmann spoke with the media on Tuesday via teleconference to put a bow on a season that, for a variety of reasons, won’t soon be forgotten.
“We obviously felt very, very good about how we were playing and were finishing,” Holtmann said. “To win nine of our last 12 (games) in the deepest league in the country says something about how we were playing.”
Holtmann pointed to Ohio State earning its highest AP Poll ranking in his three years in Columbus as a measure of the program’s improvement, as well as its finish in offensive and defensive efficiency being among the best in the country. He said the Buckeyes were one of six teams to finish in the top 20 in the country in both of those metrics.
“Those (efficiency) numbers certainly don’t guarantee you anything, but I think when you’re one of six teams to be top 20 in those two numbers, it certainly says you have a real chance to advance (in the tournament),” Holtmann said. “We all know the unpredictability of the NCAA Tournament, and I’m not here to make any crazy claims. But I certainly did feel confident about our ability to perform well and give ourselves a chance to advance in the tournament.”
With the 2019-20 season behind him, Holtmann will have a significant amount of roster attrition to handle whenever preparation for the next season can officially begin.
Senior forward Andre Wesson is out of eligibility, and his brother Kaleb is going through draft preparations once again. Unlike last year, however, Holtmann said Kaleb is dedicated to the process this time, suggesting Kaleb’s full intent is to remain in the draft.
In the two Wesson brothers, the Buckeyes are losing two of their best defenders and distance shooters; Kaleb led the team in three-point shooting percentage at 42.5 percent, and Andre wasn’t far behind at 42.2 percent.
In addition to the Wessons, several players have elected to transfer from the program, including would-be sophomores D.J. Carton and Alonzo Gaffney. Most surprising of the transfer announcements has been that of guard Luther Muhammad, who was a fixture in the starting lineup last season and likely would have been asked to take on an even larger role next season.
All of the players leaving, with the exception Gaffney, averaged at least 24 minutes a season ago for the Buckeyes.
Asked about the increasing trend of players transferring, Holtmann credited it to players simply seeking more opportunities, whether it be playing a different position, more shot attempts, or more minutes.
“I think, in very few cases, there’s anything else beyond that,” he said, adding there are cases where that has both worked well and against the player transferring, although it is their right to find out.
Holtmann went on to say that, oftentimes in those situations, the coaches are also of the opinion that a transfer would be best for both the player and the program.
Two players Holtmann and Ohio State will lean on heavily next season to fill the scoring void left by the departures will be guards Duane Washington Jr. and C.J. Walker. Holtmann said Walker is currently going through the draft process to gather feedback, similar to what Kaleb Wesson did last season, but fully intends on returning for his senior season.
As for Washington, who is entering his junior season, Holtmann said he expects him to be a major factor for Ohio State next season.
“It’ll be significant,” Holtmann said of a role expansion for Washington. “I think what we saw last year was Duane emerging in a lot of ways, particularly offensively … there’s a lot of room for growth with him, and we have to pull it out of him.”
While the Buckeyes have experienced their share of transfers, they have also been active in the transfer market to fill out the roster. Most notably, Columbus native and Harvard transfer Seth Towns will be eligible to play next season as a graduate transfer.
A 6-foot-7-inch forward, Towns averaged 16 points and shot 44 percent from three for the Crimson in 2017-18 before sitting out each of the last two seasons due to a knee injury. Should he be healthy enough to return next season, Towns will bring a variety of qualities to the floor for the Buckeyes.
“Seth is obviously a really mature young man, having graduated from Harvard,” Holtmann said of Towns. “His shooting provides a really specific opportunity and need for us.”
By no means is Holtmann downplaying the losses on the roster, particularly with both of the Wessons’ careers at Ohio State now being finished. However, he expressed great confidence the returners and where the current state of the program currently rests.
“I feel as good about this roster leading into the offseason as I have felt in any offseason,” Holtmann said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.