From the moment he first stepped foot in Columbus as the head coach of the men’s basketball team, Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann had plenty that he had to worry about, but one thing was certain: If he wanted his Buckeyes to compete and do well during his first year leading the program, forward Keita Bates-Diop would have to lead the way. To say that the redshirt junior has done just that would be an understatement.
Even with that said and although he has been arguably one of the best players in the country through this season, Bates-Diop was left off the John R. Wooden Award midseason watch list Thursday afternoon, which names 25 players who are frontrunners for college basketball’s most prestigious honor.
Through 18 games this season, he is averaging 20.3 points, 8.8 rebounds1, 1.3 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.2 steals in 31.9 minutes per game. Bates-Diop is also shooting 53.3 percent from the floor and 41.9 percent from beyond the arc. He has been phenomenal all season, but he put the rest of college basketball on notice when he notched a career-high 32 points, seven rebounds, one block, and three steals to lead the Buckeyes to a stunning upset over then No. 1-ranked Michigan State last Sunday, proving that he is in fact the real deal. For his performance against the Spartans, Bates-Diop was named the Big Ten Player of the Week and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association National Player of the Week. It seems as though the country realized just how good he is, but yet the poll of national basketball experts who voted on the Wooden Award watch list still (somehow) ignored the Ohio State forward.
Then Thursday night came. Some thought that the Buckeyes may have a down game after an emotional victory four days earlier, but, with the help of Bates-Diop, Ohio State dominated Maryland to improve to 14-4 overall and a perfect 5-0 in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks. He also shot 10-of-15 from the floor and 6-of-8 from long distance in what was just another dominate performance. In five Big Ten games, the Normal, Illinois native is averaging 24 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while shooting 61.1 percent from the floor and 58.3 percent from three-point range. He’s even shooting 90 percent from the free-throw stripe. The dude can’t be stopped.
While he has dominated offensively, Bates-Diop is very good defensively as well. His length and versatility not only allows him to be a lockdown defender, but also allows the forward to guard four different positions on the floor as well, making it easier for Holtmann to determine what type of defense he wants his team to play.
With all this said, Bates-Diop has kept to himself and not let anything be about him while Ohio State continues to shock not only the Big Ten, but all of college basketball. Keep in mind, the Buckeyes were picked to finish 11th (out of 14) teams in the conference, according to Big Ten media members. Their 5-0 Big Ten record so far seems to prove those voters wrong.
Bates-Diop’s exclusion from the Wooden Award watch list seems as though the voters haven’t paid much attention to Ohio State this season, a program that has already exceeded expectation so far this season. If he and the Buckeyes continue like they have so far this season, it will be near impossible to miss out on what the scarlet and gray doing on the hardwood.
It’s worth noting that Bates-Diop played in just nine games during the 2016-17 season due to a number of different injuries, his last game being January 1. Former head coach Thad Matta said that of all the players that the Buckeyes could afford to lose, the forward would be the last one because he is (and was) that good. Little did Matta know at the time, Bates-Diop injury contributed to Ohio State struggling through much of last season, which turned into Matta and the Buckeyes parting ways. So essentially, if Bates-Diop didn’t get hurt last season, there’s a good possibility that Matta would still be coaching the scarlet and gray today.
For those curious: There are two Big Ten players on the national watch list: Michigan State’s Miles Bridges and Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy.
Lucky for a guy like Bates-Diop, a player does not have to be on the midseason watch list in order to win the award at season’s end. Then again, if the voters don’t think he’s good enough to even be one of the 25 players nominated, it will be tough to sway their decision by the conclusion of the season.
- Third in the Big Ten. [↩]