After a disappointing year in 2022 for head coach Chris Holtmann and the Ohio State Buckeyes finishing with a 16-19 record, the team is looking to bounce back and once again become a top contender in the Big 10. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the task will become more difficult with the departure of one-and-done freshman Brice Sensabaugh. The six-foot-six forward made an instant impact at Ohio State and was one of the only consistent bright spots on the roster. Sensabaugh averaged a team-high 16.3 points and added 5.4 rebounds. With Sensabaugh being selected by the Utah Jazz with the 28th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Ohio State will have to look elsewhere to make up for his offensive production.
Who Will Replace Brice Sensabaugh’s Production at Ohio State?
The most reasonable person to assume who will be responsible for picking up the slack left by Sensabaugh is primary ball handler Bruce Thornton. Thornton is entering his sophomore season after starting all 35 games he played for Ohio State. Sensabaugh picked up an injury heading into the Big 10 tournament, and Thornton took control of the team, scoring at least 15 points in each of the Buckeyes three wins. He will undoubtedly feature an increased scoring role, which he should be up to the task for. Ohio State won’t be asking Thornton to score like Sensabaugh because he will still be responsible for distributing the ball to teammates.
The problem for Thornton will be consistency. In one game, Thornton shot 2-8 against Wisconsin, then the next game he was 10-13 against Michigan. Thornton isn’t going to shoot 10-13 every game, but he isn’t the cutthroat scorer that Sensabaugh is. However, cutting out the horrible shooting nights and point droughts will be key to Ohio State competing in the Big 10.
Entering his fifth year, Ohio State brought in forward Jamison Battle from Minnesota as a direct replacement for Sensabugh in the starting lineup. Battle is a career 35% shooter from beyond the arc while attempting seven threes per game. Battle averaged 14.4 points during his time at George Washington and Minnesota. The experience garnered from two previous years with the Golden Gophers will help Battle settle into the physical conference play immediately. Also, his ability to shoot the three-ball will be a welcome addition to a team that ranked near the bottom of the country in both points per game and attempted three-pointers.
The main issue for Battle is that while he is a Big 10 veteran player, he has never played Ohio State basketball. Last year, we saw veteran transfer Tanner Holden never quite fit into the Buckeye scheme, averaging less than 4.0 points per game and transferring back to Wright State at the end of the season. Battle will surely be able to eclipse the numbers that were put up by Holden a season ago, but Holden was brought in as a sixth man while Battle will be thrust into the starting lineup. But this does not mean he will fail to reach his full potential at Ohio State.
Back for his senior season is the leader of the Buckeyes, Zed Key. A shoulder injury kept him limited and out of the lineup for much of his junior season. In many ways, Key is the heart of the Ohio State team. If the bruiser can score in the paint, everything opens up for the Buckeyes. While controlling the paint is a critical part of any team’s success, how Key attacks the game can demoralize teams. At only six-foot-eight, Key is undersized for a forward/center in the Big 10, but what he lacks in height, he makes up for in physicality. Key is known for his bruising play backing down opponents. If he can continue to get inside through his pure strength, it forces double teams to open up the rest of the game.
The key for Key is to work on expanding his range. He has improved his range from being a player within six feet of the basket to someone who can occasionally stretch the floor. He shot 29.2% from three in his limited running while attempting one a game. If Key can improve this aspect of his game and is even half as dangerous as he is in the paint, it would help Ohio State drastically. This not only drags out bigger defenders from the paint but also allows Key to become more unpredictable, allowing him to drive into the paint much easier.
Ohio State as a Team
While Thornton, Key, and Battle will be massive pieces in Ohio State’s plan this year, it is doubtful that they will be able to match Sensabaugh’s production alone. No player on the Buckeyes’ roster can score like him. Role players such as Roddy Gayle Jr., Felix Okpara, highly touted freshman Devin Royal, and others must make sizable contributions. These players need to be able to have big scoring nights to spell players like Thornton, Key, and Battle, who, during a long season, will have games where they will play poorly.
The loss of Sensabaugh will cause the Buckeyes to go in a different direction regarding offensive production. Overall, forcing Holtmann’s hand into spreading the ball to other players is probably a positive. Over the past few years, Ohio State has fallen into the trap of being one-dimensional on offense with Sensabaugh and E.J. Liddell before him. Seeing healthy ball distribution will be critical for Ohio State’s success on the offensive side of the court this year against higher-echelon opponents. It will be intriguing to see if the Buckeyes and Holtmann can adapt to not having a clear number-one scoring option entering the season.