Ohio State hoops: From hunter to hunted in less than a year

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

When Thad Matta was named the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team in 2004, he immediately put the rest of college basketball on notice. Whether it was his ability to recruit some of the top recruits and classes in the country or the way he was able to lead a group of 18-to-22 year olds, Matta made the scarlet and gray nationally relevant again. The Ohio State University was considered a basketball school; if only for a few months during winter and early spring.

Unfortunately, Ohio State started to go downhill and stopped living up to the expectations Matta created. From 2005 to 2015, the Buckeyes made nine NCAA Tournament appearances. The only year that didn’t make it to March Madness, they wont the NIT championship. But from 2015-17, the Buckeyes struggled, going just 38-29; not even getting invited to the NIT. Whether it was his health or keeping a clean program, Ohio State struggled on the hardwood and the recruiting trail eventually leading to Matta being relieved of his duties this past summer.

The expectations for the Buckeyes were virtually non-existent for the 2017-2018 season. When the scarlet and gray missed out on former Dayton coach Archie Miller,1 many seemed to think that the Buckeyes were going to be stuck with a coach they may not have wanted.

Then, Chris Holtmann’s name was mentioned. A young, up-and-coming head coach at Butler, he had spent three years at Butler, a program where Matta began his coaching career. Holtmann was expected to have some time to build the type of program he wanted; a program that would eventually be among the Big Ten’s best.

He and his staff (somehow) assembled the best recruiting class in the Big Ten. Yes, Holtmann and crew came to Columbus in June and in just one month, were able to sign the best class in the conference, even better than programs such as Michigan State and Michigan.

Even though they did that, expectations were still quite low for the Buckeyes heading into Holtmann’s first season leading the way. The scarlet and gray were projected to finish 11th (out of 14 teams) in the Big Ten by the conference’s media members. So, there was no pressure. If they lost, they lost; if they won and had some upsets, then that’s even better.

Instead, the season has already turned into quite a special one for his Buckeyes. Much like Matta did when he arrived to Columbus in 2004, Holtmann has immediately turned things around for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State started the season well, with a 12-4 record going into the first week of 2018, but many weren’t sure if the Buckeyes were the real deal or not. All those questions seemed to go out the window when the Holtmann’s squad upset then No.1-ranked Michigan State Spartans in Columbus on January 7. The only remaining questions was if it was a fluke. If the Buckeyes would falter after such a big upset win.

Since taking down Sparty, the Buckeyes have won four straight games, including two on the road and one at Madison Square Garden. They are not only on a seven-game win streak, but they’ve done so in dominating fashion, winning by double digits in all but one game.2

With a perfect 8-0 record in the Big Ten and 17-4 overall, Ohio State tied their win total and surpassed the seven conference wins they had in 2016-17. Undefeated in the conference, two of their non-conference losses were against ranked opponents,3 the other two were when they gave up a double-digit lead in two consecutive games. The Buckeyes haven’t been relevant on the hardwood the last couple years, but it seems as though in just seven months, Holtmann has not only made his squad relevant, but has made them one of the best teams in the conference and a top-25 team in the country.

The Buckeyes haven’t had any pressure on them in years. They were always the team hunting the leaders of the conference and the underdog. Now ranked and undefeated in the Big Ten, the expectations for the scarlet and gray have skyrocketed and Ohio State is now a team that others are hoping to knock off the pedestal. Buckeye Nation expected to have to give some time for Holtmann and company to turn things around and turn the program into something that they wanted. It seems as though the Buckeyes are already back among not only the Big Ten’s best teams, but possibly even one of the best teams in the country.

Now, with a target on their back, we’ll see how the Buckeyes are able to keep up with the expectations that have grown. If they have proven anything this season, they are prepared for everything that lies ahead.

  1. who went from the Flyers to the Indiana University this past offseason []
  2. They only beat Northwestern by six last Wednesday. []
  3. Gonzaga and North Carolina at neutral sites. []