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Ohio State: Freshmen will be X-factors for Buckeyes in NCAA Tournament

Luther Muhammad-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State basketball
Ohio State will need Luther Muhammad at his best in the NCAA Tournament. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Ohio State: Freshmen will be X-factors for Buckeyes in NCAA Tournament

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about the Ohio State matchup with Iowa State? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

If there’s one area of the game where Ohio State isn’t likely to have any reason for concern, it’s on the defensive end. The Buckeyes may sometimes battle foul trouble, occasionally a team will get hot knocking down jump shots and there have been outings with too many offensive rebounds allowed. But for the most part, Chris Holtmann knows what he’s going to get on a consistent basis on that end of the floor — and usually it’s a solid defensive outing that will at least keep any matchup close.

Getting over the top? For Ohio State, that’s almost always going to come down to whether it’s converting the open looks it gets on the other end from 3-point range. And that’s where a handful of freshmen might need to step up and deliver against Iowa State if the Buckeyes are going to extend their stay in March Madness.

Obviously the veteran backcourt combination of Keyshawn Woods and C.J. Jackson will need to produce as well. But in a tournament that can make overnight heroes from unexpected sources, three guys making their debut appearances in the Big Dance could wind up making the difference in the first round on Friday night in Tulsa.

Duane Washington-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State basketball

Ohio State freshman Duane Washington can provide a lift offensively for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Luther Muhammad has shown what he can do right from the opening game of the season when he scored in double figures and helped spark a key win at Cincinnati. Duane Washington poured in a career-high 20 in the next game and has proven to be a fearless shooter from the perimeter. And then there’s Justin Ahrens, who lit the bonfire of Iowa with a barrage of 3-pointers in a 29-point performance in what might be the most impressive outing for Ohio State this season.

Along the way, there have obviously been setbacks for each of them, which should be expected for freshmen. Muhammad seemed to hit a wall of fatigue after playing so many minutes, Washington’s shot has gone through dry spells and Ahrens must continue to shore up his defense to stay in the rotation.

But at this point of the year, the Buckeyes have provided them enough opportunities to potentially be ready for the big stage. And it definitely helps that they got a taste of the postseason in a must-win game against Indiana and a tough test against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament last week.

“I think it’s really important,” Holtmann said. “I think it’s really important for our young guys to be part of this tournament experience, to understand what playing against competition in a tournament setting is about. For our guys to get that kind of experience is really good.

“I thought our young kids had a really good approach.”

If that can carry over into the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State will have a shot to stick around in the bracket for a bit.

That might be a lot to ask from those freshmen. But the Buckeyes have already been leaning on them plenty this season, and they’ve all shown that they can handle the pressure.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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