Without Kaleb Wesson, Buckeyes Are Easy Target

Ohio State was 12-1 (2-0) before the New Year, but life comes at you fast in this year’s Big Ten. The Buckeyes are 6-11 in 2019, and following the, 68-50, beating at Northwestern on Wednesday find themselves in a bubble fight.

On March 1, Ohio State’s athletic department suspended sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson indefinitely for a violation of its policy. It was announced he will return this season at some point, but that’s all the information anyone knows.

The Buckeyes have played two games without him and his team-leading 14.6 points per game. The first was an 86-51 thrashing at Purdue, then the Northwestern pummeling.

The 51 and 50-point marks are a far cry from the 90 points Ohio State put up on Iowa only one game before heading to West Lafayette, and it might be confusing to imagine the absence of one player, even a team’s best scorer, would have such an impact. Some teams are able to absorb that kind of blow. This is not one of them.

1 Firstly, Wesson is the only player on the team who has the ability to consistently create and make his own shot. When the shot clock gets below 10, the Buckeyes can fed their 6-foot-9, 270-pound frontman and expect a bucket or free throws with enough frequency. He’s the only Buckeye shooting better than 50 percent from the field (senior guard C.J. Jackson is second, shooting 40.6 percent for the season). Without him, there’s no one else who can be relied upon in broken sets where you need someone to make a play. A handful of players can occasionally make a tough shot, but no one else on the roster can be trusted with that role.

2 Second, Wesson is not only Ohio State’s best scorer, he’s also its only real interior threat. Sophomore Kyle Young can provide quality minutes, but his contributors come on the glass, defensively and with anything related to hustle. He fulfills his role well and is a valuable member of the team, but he is not yet able to go one-on-one in the post to create scoring opportunities.

Wesson is good enough that opposing teams will sometimes double him when he gets the ball on the block. If someone is doubled, even for a moment, it means something else is open. Even when the double doesn’t come, the defense will still collapse in toward the paint in case help is needed, and that allows space for the kick. If Wesson doesn’t find the open player, him receiving the ball has already forced the defense to move. This can open up the lane and leave holes behind the three-point line, providing opportunities for good looks for Wesson’s teammates. But there’s no need to double or even help on Young in the post, so opposing defenders can stay on their man and those spaces don’t open up.

3 Third, he’s the team’s best rebounder, averaging a team-high 6.7 boards per contest. His offensive rebounding percentage is 12, the best on the team other than freshman forward Jaedon LeDee, who averages 6.6 minutes per game. The advanced stat measures the percentage of missed shots a player rebounds while on the floor, taking into account factors unrelated to a player’s ability. His 12-percent mark is 11th-best in the Big Ten, a sizable loss for an Ohio State team that needs as many extra looks at the basket as possible.

4 Fourth, Wesson is one of Ohio State’s best outside shooters. This is overall not a good shooting team, let alone outside shooting team, but when no one shoots better than 39 percent from deep and your offense is already stagnant as is, having as many players who can hit from outside is important. Wesson has scored a good chunk of points this season off pick and pops, and that is more or less gone from Ohio State’s offense now.

Without their leading scorer, Ohio State doesn’t have enough offensive options to turn to. It doesn’t have a great way to make the defense move nor someone it can give the ball to and reliably ask to get a bucket. This creates more missed shots, and the Buckeyes don’t have their best offensive rebounder there to turn them into second-chance opportunities.

This is a team that already spent most of February struggling to break 60 every night with Wesson. Ohio State is going to have to hold opponents below 60, perhaps fewer, to win again without him. That becomes even harder when the next-best option down low after Young is the suspended Wesson’s brother, junior forward Andre Wesson, who is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. Look no further than the points-in-the-paint against Northwestern: 36-20, Wildcats, an illustration of Ohio State’s offensive and defensive issues inside without Kaleb Wesson.

Ohio State has become too easy to guard without Kaleb Wesson in the lineup. The offense has become even more reliant on individual plays than it was before, and it no longer has its best one-on-one player. The Buckeyes finish their regular season against Wisconsin at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday, then travel to Chicago for the Big Ten Tournament. I don’t see a way this team can score enough points to win another game without Kaleb Wesson.

Either Columbus gets its big man back or the NIT is coming to town.

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