Ohio State Basketball: Checking in on BasketBucks Soaring into Conference Play

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Snyder
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Snyder

Ohio State’s Men’s Basketball team is showing great flashes early on in the season as the Buckeyes jump out to a 7-1 start. 

The Ohio State men’s basketball team has opened eyes early on in the 2023-2024 season and is off and running with a 6-1 start to the year. The non-conference slate has featured mostly easier home matchups, but also a few teams that will for sure be playing come March.

The Buckeyes have a few non-conference games remaining but are slated to tipoff Big Ten Conference play on Sunday at 6:30 pm when they host the 5-2 Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Head Coach Chris Holtmann is in his seventh season at the helm for the Bucks after a shorter three-year stint at Butler. With an underperforming season last year that featured a long losing streak in the early months of the 2023 year, basketball fans had plenty of questions about Holtmann. However, he ended the year rattling off three huge wins in the Big Ten tournament and almost knocked off the conference giants in Purdue. He followed that by recruiting well and bringing in some big transfers to help out the young core.

The Buckeyes opened the year with four straight games at the Schottenstein Center. The first game featured an easier matchup against Oakland, but a narrow six-point win raised a few concerns. Ohio State then suffered their first loss of the year against No. 15 Texas A&M but showed good flashes in the seven-point loss.

Two more home wins by the Scarlet and Gray against Merrimack and Western Michigan by 24 and 17 respectively had them back on track ahead of the Emerald Coast Classic. The four-team tournament had the Bucks slated to play another ranked team in No. 17 Alabama. A great team with great players and a spectacular coach meant another early-season battle.

This time the Buckeyes rose to the occasion and prevailed, putting together an elite display and defeating the Crimson Tide 92-81, advancing to the championship game. They then played a solid Santa Clara group coming off a win against Oregon. That didn’t matter though, as Ohio State cruised in the final to a 30-point beatdown 86-56.

After two great showings, the team seemed to be hitting their early season stride and had put together some great performances, especially on the offensive side of the ball. This continued Wednesday night when they returned home and knocked off Central Michigan 88-61. This puts them at a respectable 7-1 and ranked No. 25, with a new phase of the season on the horizon.

The results are coming, partly due to Sophomore point guard Bruce Thornton, arguably the best player on the team. He is also arguably the most important player and has been one of the best point guards in the conference thus far. He is averaging 18.3 points, 4.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.6 steals on 45.1 percent shooting to start the year. His backcourt companion is another Sophomore and shooting guard Roddy Gayle Jr. Gayle has posted an impressive 14.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists on 55.9 percent shooting thus far.

Senior Minnesota transfer Jamison Battle has been a key addition to the group and has added 12.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game from the three spot. He has been a great addition as a shooter and veteran experience. Rounding out the scoring for the Buckeyes have been Senior forward Zed Key and Sophomore center Felix Okpara. The duo have a combined 16.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks this year and are both shooting above 65 percent.

Transfers Dale Bonner and Evan Mahaffey have provided great plates on defense and spark plays on offense, while Freshman Scotty Middleton and Devin Royal have shown great play early on in their Buckeye careers.

With a unique blend of young underclassmen and veteran transfers, it has proven to be a successful recipe under Holtman thus far. If the Buckeyes can keep up the momentum, they will make another run in the conference tournament and hopefully return to March Madness after a brief hiatus. I expect the backcourt to continue to take charge and lean on the veterans and big men when needed, leading to a successful season and rebounding year from the past.