Only 25 games into the Chris Holtmann era, it seems as though the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team is in very good hands for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of questions throughout this past offseason, before and right after the 46-year-old came to Columbus.
When the Buckeyes decided to let go of Thad Matta, Buckeye Nation was in awe. Not just because he was the best coach in the program’s history, but because of the timing of the decision as well. Waiting until early June not only effected recruiting, but it also meant that some potential replacements had already found other jobs as well.
Before Matta was even let go, many Buckeyes wanted Dayton’s Archie Miller to return to Columbus and take over Matta’s program when he left, succeeding the coach he was an assistant for from 2007-09. Not only because Miller had Ohio ties, but because he was one of the top available coaches on the market. The partnership almost seemed inevitable. The problem? Due to Indiana firing Tom Crean in March, they were three months ahead on trying to find a replacement. With Matta still at Ohio State at that time, the Hoosiers were able to steal away Miller and named him their head coach just 10 days after firing Crean, over two months before Matta was even let go.
So when Ohio State decided to let go of their head coach in June, rather than doing so in March like Indiana did, their fans weren’t happy whatsoever. They missed out on Miller and now will be stuck with Plan B, C, or even D because they waited so long. Instead of hiring the guy from Dayton, the Buckeyes hired a guy from Butler.
Looking back, it’s sort of seems ironic. You’d think that the Butler coach would have went just a little south to lead the Hoosiers while the Dayton guy would travel just a little northeast and be the guy at Ohio State. Instead, it was the exact opposite. Although Buckeyes fans seemed to question the moves this offseason, it seems as though the scarlet and gray got the better end of the deal.
This past Tuesday, Holtmann’s Buckeyes and Miller’s Hoosiers faced off for the first time this season. In a game that Ohio State dominated from the start, the scarlet and gray took down Indiana in Columbus, 71-56. But it’s not just the head-to-head win that makes the wait worth it, it’s everything that has encompassed the season so far.
In just a month, Holtmann and company were able to recruit the top class in the Big Ten. While Matta and his staff definitely helped, Holtmann put the finishing touches on the conference’s top class in 2017. Fast forward to February and Ohio State is 20-5, 11-1 in the Big Ten. Once projected to finish 11th (out of 14) teams in the conference, the Buckeyes not only seem to be a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but they are even expected to make a run in March as well, along with competing for a Big Ten championship as well.
The head coach not only knows how to get the best out of his players, but he knows the right lineups, rotations, and strategies to use in order to put his team in the best possible position to win as well. With a roster that isn’t very deep, Holtmann’s ability to maximize his players is key. So far, he has done just that and then some.
His Buckeyes have their toughest test of the season Wednesday night, when they travel to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers. Not only is it another chance to prove just how good they are and that they can compete with the best teams in the country, but they also are just one game behind Purdue in the Big Ten standings as well. West Lafayette is a very tough place to play, but never count Holtmann’s squad out or they could just prove you wrong—again. A win against Purdue will put the Buckeyes in the driver’s seat atop the conference but it will also be a huge resume booster heading come the NCAA Tournament.
With just six regular season games remaining, Ohio State can’t let up. Knowing Holtmann, they won’t. Once projected to be one of the worst teams in the conference, the Buckeyes were expected to take multiple years to become a legitimate basketball program again. In just a few short months, they have not only exceeded expecations, but they are a top-25 team in the country and are now receiving their opponent’s best shot every game.
Many seemed to question the decisions made this past summer concerning Matta, Holtmann, and Miller, but it seems as though the Buckeyes made the right decision yet again. Not only is he a great coach who’s teams will great things on the court, but he also keeps things clean off the court as well, much like Matta. Even he can continue to do those two things, he and the Buckeyes can be very special for a long time. The long-term success has yet to be decided, but the Buckeyes have something special brewing on the hardwood in Columbus.