Beginning the 2017-18 men’s basketball season, Ohio State knew depth at certain positions would be an issue.
The Buckeyes had just one natural point guard and one listed center.
Against Northeastern Sunday, that one center, sophomore Micah Potter, sprained his ankle and was forced to leave the game.
Head coach Chris Holtmann said Tuesday he thinks the 6-foot-9, 240-pound center will be available for the team’s most daunting task so far this season when it travels to Portland, Oregon, to take on No. 17 Gonzaga in the first round of the PK80 Invitational.
“We think Micah will be available to play,” Holtmann said. “He’s going to be somewhat limited in practice leading up to it. But we anticipate that he should be good to go for Thursday night.”
The absence of Potter from the starting lineup would likely require freshman forward Kaleb Wesson to step up and play in the middle for the Buckeyes. And while Holtmann expressed confidence in Wesson’s ability to slide into a starting role, he said he does not believe Potter’s injury will alter the starting five.
“I think that if for some reason, it was really bothering [Potter] then we would make that change,” Holtmann said. “I think right now bringing [Wesson] off the bench is good for him because it gets him a feel for the game and keeps him from picking up early fouls.”
As it is though, the injury to Potter could still limit his minutes, which would put Wesson in a position to eat up more time than he’s seen to this point in his young career.
Through three games, Wesson averages just 19.7 minutes per contest, and while it is higher than Potter’s 19.3 average, Potter was only able to play 13 minutes in his last game. The pair has been about even in the box scores, with Wesson averaging 11.3 points per game compared to Potter’s 8.8. Potter holds a slight 4.8 to 4.7 average rebounding advantage over Wesson.
Holtmann said both players are talented with their backs to the basket, but said Wesson has an advantage in that area, partially due to his size. Where Potter stands apart from Wesson is in his ability to shoot 3s.
“Both guys give us a low-post threat,” Holtmann said. “Obviously we want Micah to be able to stretch the defense some as well. I think Kaleb will be able to do that probably later in his career, but right now he’s a really effective low-post finisher.”
Though the stat sheet and Holtmann both seem to indicate the two are similarly productive players, some of the veteran players on the team said Potter is more of a vocal leader on the court than the freshman.
“[Potter’s] better at communicating,” redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop said. “He’s just a louder voice. Kaleb’s in his third or fourth game. He has to fully understand the concepts of you have to communicate all the time. I think Micah’s probably just better at that at this point.”
Wesson has the talent where if he were called upon to step up in place of Potter, he could make up for the lost production in points and rebounds. In fact, Wesson has flashed the potential to be a more dynamic scorer in the paint than Potter, and could serve as an offensive upgrade inside.
But Wesson has plenty of flaws in his game. Holtmann said he has struggled to defend on the interior and has repeatedly said Wesson will have issues staying out of foul trouble.
The Buckeyes will need all the help they can get in order to upset the Bulldogs Thursday. Wesson has shown he has the potential to provide valuable minutes to the Buckeyes, but he is not yet ready to be someone like Potter who can eat up 25-plus minutes for Ohio State.
If Potter’s injury puts a strict limit on his minutes, Wesson might be forced to quickly become a support the Buckeyes have no choice but to lean on against one of college basketball’s best teams.