COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State basketball wildly exceeded expectations in Chris Holtmann’s first season, surprising fans by nearly winning the Big Ten regular-season title and following that up with a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
It was an encouraging start to Holtmann’s tenure, but a step back in 2018-19 might be understandable after looking at the roster. After all, the Buckeyes lose seniors Kam Williams, Jae’Sean Tate and Andrew Dakich. What will determine Ohio State’s ceiling next year, though, is whether Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop decides to return to school or leave for the NBA.
Bates-Diop was allowed to take part in Ohio State’s senior night ceremony in February because he was a fourth-year player who has graduated, but his participation didn’t mean he’s decided to leave. His breakout year was impressive, but a season-ending injury last year kept him off the draft radar entering the season. Given that he’s started to appear in mock drafts as a potential pick late in the first round, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him depart. Still, it’s not the foregone conclusion that it might be if he were projected as a lottery pick.
“It might be the hardest decision I’ll ever make,” Bates-Diop told reporters after Ohio State’s season-ending loss to Gonzaga on Saturday. “I love this group of guys. This has been my best year by far – not just statistically but group of guys-wise. It’s the wins, it’s how we got the wins.”
The Buckeyes will return a solid cast of contributors, including guards C.J. Jackson and Andre Wesson, forward Caleb Wesson and center Micah Potter. It’s fair to expect a second-year leap from freshmen Musa Jallow and Kyle Young, who showed flashes of promise. And Holtmann has signed four players from the Class of 2018, including top-100 players Luther Muhammad and Jaedon LeDee.
Ultimately, though, it all hinges on what Bates-Diop decides to do. His departure would nearly double the number of points and rebounds Ohio State will have to replace from its three seniors, while his return would give the Buckeyes the reigning conference player of the year.
It could end up being a long wait for Ohio State fans if Bates-Diop isn’t sure about what to do. NCAA rules allow players to enter the NBA draft and maintain their eligibility if they don’t hire an agent and remove their name by a certain deadline — for this year, June 11. Bates-Diop almost certainly will put his name in the draft either way, but whether he stays will determine how high Ohio State’s ceiling is for next season.