Ohio State had a strong season last year, looking like one of the nation’s best teams early in the season and finishing the year in statistics website KenPom’s top 10. How can the Buckeyes get back to that point this season?
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said that there was one factor in particular that stood out. More specifically, one player stands out.
“The @OhioStateHoops (are) well coached by @ChrisHoltmann but they need a healthy transfer
Towns enters this season as one of college basketball’s single biggest X-Factors. Ohio State looks good without him, thanks to the return of CJ Walker and Duane Washington in the backcourt, a third starter in Kyle Young in the front court and the development of sophomore EJ Liddell, along with California transfer Justice Sueing.
But Towns — who Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said wasn’t likely to be at full strength when the season starts — is a bit of a mystery. If fully healthy at the end of the year, and if he’s playing at the level he did last time he played a full season, Towns is among college basketball’s best players. His last full season, he was Ivy League Player of the Year by averaging 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, he shot 44.1% from behind the 3-point arc and 80.5% from the free throw line.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Towns’ last action came during the 2017-18 season; he suffered a season-ending knee injury just before the start of his junior season, then didn’t play last year either, ending a potential comeback later in the year by having surgery in December.
That’s a long time off the court for a player to not only return, but come back and play at a high level. But Vitale’s point is also accurate—should Towns return and play to his ability, it ups Ohio State’s ceiling significantly because he’s such a difficult player to match up with. Towns playing at the four, or even the five, would allow the Buckeyes to spread the court with shooting and ball movement, with several players who could take advantage of their matchups off the bounce in space as well.
The Buckeyes were picked seventh in the Big Ten’s preseason media poll, released Tuesday. And the biggest question marks come from how Ohio State will battle down low — in a league packed with quality big men — after losing Kaleb Wesson. Ohio State doesn’t have a proven true center at this point, meaning that if players like Liddell and Towns can allow Ohio State to play four and five out, the Buckeyes could have a way to combat the disadvantage.