Andre and Kaleb Wesson are the centerpieces of a talented group of Buckeye departures that accounted for over half of the Ohio State scoring production from a year ago.
The brothers and former collegiate basketball teammates will work towards their professional pursuits and not provide the Buckeyes with their combined 23.2 points and 13.2 rebounds per game in the 2020-21 season. While the Wessons, with Kaleb off to the NBA draft and Andre newly graduated, headline an impactful group of players that will not be returning for the coming season, Holtmann has experienced players that might help the team find success going forward.
Kaleb Wesson, who earned a second team All-Big Ten honor in 2020, has been a staple of Ohio State’s interior for the past three seasons. Averaging at least 20 minutes and 10 points per game in every season as a Buckeye, Kaleb Wesson’s departure will force the Buckeyes to look elsewhere for production in the paint, especially on the defensive end.
“That’ll be obviously an offseason challenge for us moving forward, but I do think that E.J. [Liddell] — even though he’s a forward — provides some rim protection,” Holtmann said in a media teleconference April 14. “And then Kyle [Young] is going to have to get better at that and then our young, bigger guys, they’re going to have to help us there.”
The solution down low will most likely be a combined effort between senior forward Kyle Young and sophomore forward E.J. Liddell, who both had breakout performances in the 2019-20 season.
Young, who missed six games his junior season with a leg injury, provided a lift for the Buckeyes from the four-spot. Following Ohio State’s 64-56 win over Cincinnati Nov. 6, Kaleb Wesson described Young, who posted a career-high 13 rebounds to go with 14 points, as a “high energy guy who’s gonna go out there and do the dirty work for us.”
Along with his 7.5 points per game, Young hauled in 2.0 offensive rebounds per game this past season.
While Young brings experience to the forward position with 39 starts in his career, Liddell brings potential to the frontcourt.
Logging minutes in 31 games his freshman season, Liddell’s breakout moment came in Ohio State’s final home game of the season. Playing 27 minutes off the bench in the Buckeyes’ 71-63 win over Illinois, Liddell provided 17 points and 11 rebounds.
“I felt like the game has slowed down a lot,” Liddell said after the March 5 game. “Knowing personnel and just knowing what you’ve got to go out there and do and just embracing your role, and that took me a while. I feel like I am still getting there and embracing my role.”
While he stands at only 6-foot-6, Liddell also provides a shot-blocking element on the defensive end. Trailing only Kaleb Wesson in blocks on the season, Liddell produced a season-high five blocks against Nebraska Feb. 27.
At the wing, graduate transfer forward Seth Towns will be one of the players tasked with replacing Andre Wesson’s production.
Towns, who was the Ivy League Player of the Year his sophomore season, averaged 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in his most recent season. The Ohio native missed the last two seasons due to a knee injury.
Towns shot 41.9 percent from the 3-point line while at Harvard, and it is this shooting ability combined with his maturity that is exciting, Holtmann said.
“We all know that he has to get to a place of health, in full health, but provided that happens, we’re really excited about his addition for the next couple years,” Holtmann said.
Transfer redshirt junior forward Justice Sueing, who averaged 14.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in two years at California, will also have an opportunity to contribute in his first game action after nursing a foot injury throughout the 2019-20 season.
“It was great to have him around and it was really great when he was in practice, because we began to see some of the things that we were going to see next year,” Holtmann said.
As for wings that have already contributed on the court for Ohio State, juniors Justin Ahrens and Musa Jallow provide Holtmann with more options.
In the backcourt, Ohio State will be without two players that showed great potential last season.
Junior guard Luther Muhammad transferred to Arizona State, and with sophomore guard D.J. Carton’s transfer to Marquette, Ohio State lost three of its top four per-game scorers from the past season.
While the departures are costly in terms of the depth he will have at his disposal, Holtmann will be able to lean on a pair of experienced and proven guards.
Redshirt senior guard CJ Walker was able to increase his production after Carton stepped away from the team to focus on his mental health in late January. With the extra minutes, Walker averaged 13.7 points and 4.3 assists in the final six games of the season.
Junior guard Duane Washington Jr. also provides Holtmann with a proven option that has the potential to take the next step in 2020, and Holtmann said that the guard’s upside is tremendous.
“I think what we saw was this past season was Duane emerge in a lot of ways — particularly offensively and had some critical moments in critical games and played really, really well for us and obviously played well when we also played him with the ball in his hands more,” Holtmann said.
Washington led the team with 55 made 3-point shots the past season.
Ohio State’s losses will force production to be made up on the court, and while the addition of transfers and recruits will help, Holtmann is looking at the natural progression of student-athletes to help fill the void.
“We are going to look differently and be a little bit different, but I think what you hope as a coach is that the guys in your returning program, develop and take that next step and that’s what we saw in guys last year,” Holtmann said.