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An unforgettable season continues: While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

I know, we should probably talk about the Cleveland Browns today, right? They made huge waves over the weekend with all their trades and for once, it’s genuinely exciting to talk about the Browns’ offseason moves. I mean, acquiring players who can contribute and make an impact right now is certainly preferable to talking about all the talent the Browns are letting walk out the door.

Or perhaps we should talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers. A couple weeks ago, we talked in this space about how exciting it was to watch this team again after all the big trade deadline moves the team made. Yet, here we are, a month after the trade deadline, and things feel every bit as dysfunctional with the Cavaliers as they did before the trades. Most of this time is simply injuries, of course, but it doesn’t make things any more fun when watching a lineup of Jose Calderon, Kyle Korver, Jordan Clarkson, John Holland, and Ante Zizic play meaningful minutes in an actual NBA game. It’s nothing to freak out about in terms of the long-term prospects of the team in the playoffs, but it’s definitely not fun to watch at the moment.

We could probably talk about the Cleveland Indians, who are in the midst of spring training with the regular season fast approaching, now just a couple weeks away. I know the offseason didn’t go the way many fans and followers had hoped, but I still feel the tingle of excitement in the air for the start of another season in which the Indians are the strong favorites in their division. Another season of Frankie and Jose. Another season of Miller Time. But I’ll let our baseball folks who are so much more knowledgeable about such things handle the baseball preview stuff.

Instead, I want to use this space to talk about something I so rarely talk about on this site. I want to talk about Ohio State basketball. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not much of a fan of college basketball. I follow Big Ten teams, I watch every OSU game that doesn’t conflict with the Cavaliers, but that’s about it. I didn’t watch more than a few minutes of any game not involving OSU or Big Ten teams. I had no clue who the No. 1 seeds would be prior to the announcement.

So no, I’m not going to be giving any advice on how to fill out your brackets this year. Instead, I simply want to talk about what an exceptional season the Ohio State Buckeyes had in their first season under new head coach Chris Holtmann1.

Like some fans and alumni, I was pretty disappointed with the way Thad Matta was let go. The timing was painful for the program and for the coach, and going back on their original promise to give Thad at least one more season to turn things back in the right direction was completely unfair to the greatest coach in school history. I was not only upset to see Coach Matta go, but I was fearful for the program. Who would they be able to hire at that point in time? They were too late to get fan-favorite Archie Miller and there was no way Sean Miller would leave Arizona at that time. Most of the best candidates were already entrenched in their current situations due to the timing. I was less than optimistic that OSU would get a coach I would be excited about. I was resigned to it being someone like Greg McDermott.

When Ohio State was able to actually get Chris Holtmann to leave Butler, though, I was filled with a sense of relief. In a perfect world, Holtmann wouldn’t have been the first guy on my list, but he was a very good young coach who had some success stabilizing the Butler program after Brad Stevens left. All things considered, I thought Holtmann was actually the best coach OSU could have realistically landed with the way their situation played out.

“Give him a year or two, and I’ll bet he’ll have Ohio State back in a good place,” I thought. Clearly, this first year would be rough. OSU was predicted to finish somewhere near the bottom of the conference. I saw no reason to expect otherwise.

Instead, Holtmann and his Buckeyes gave us all an unforgettable season. Keita Bates-Diop returned and blossomed into the player we always hoped he could be and more. Bates-Diop was Big Ten Player of the Year, Holtmann was Big Ten Coach of the Year. Ohio State delivered big wins against conference powers Michigan State and Purdue and finished the season in second place in the standings.

Now, Ohio State returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 and as a top-five seed for the first time since 2013. OSU kicks off their tournament Thursday at 4:00 PM and already, as a fan and as an alum, I could not possibly be more proud of this team and the job that Chris Holtmann has done.

That’s really the beautiful thing about this. Ohio State is already so far ahead of expectations that even losing in the first round, disappointing as that would be, wouldn’t change the overall success of this season. Ohio State has nothing to lose here.

That doesn’t mean Holtmann’s team is satisfied already. It doesn’t mean they are cool with losing. I’m sure they’re approaching this tournament with a feeling that they’ve shown this season they can play with anyone and they can beat anyone. Of course, a first-round win potentially sets up a rematch with Gonzaga, who earlier this season handed OSU one of their worst losses of the season. Getting past the Zags would be a tall task, but I don’t think Holtmann’s crew will back down from the challenge.

It’s going to be bittersweet watching Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, and Kam Williams in this tournament, knowing that at any moment their Ohio State careers could be over. Tate, especially, has been the heart and soul of this team for so long. I’m ecstatic he gets to go out in the tournament, but it’s also hard to believe his career is coming to a close already. And watching Bates-Diop deal with so many injuries and setbacks in his career only to finally put it all together this season has been a pure joy. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to see KBD continue his path of growth and success in the NBA, but for now, I’m going to enjoy the fact that he gets to bring his game to the big dance.

When this college basketball season started, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that come March I would be gearing up to watch the Buckeyes in the tournament. Yet that’s exactly what happened and I simply don’t have enough words to properly express how much pride I have in this team. Win or lose, this ride has already been a blast and I cannot wait to see how it plays out over the coming days and possibly weeks.

  1. One day I will remember if he has one ‘n’ or two at the end of his last name without looking it up to make sure I’m right! []