Coming into the 2017-18 season, many had low expectations for the Ohio State Buckeyes on the hardwood. Part of it was due to the departure of Thad Matta, but depth on the roster, or lack thereof, played a key role as well. As we all know, the Buckeyes exceeded expectations by a long shot this season. Picked to finish 11th (out of 14 teams) in the Big Ten, they not only finished second in the conference but secured an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament and made it to the Round of 32. Very few people expected that outside of the ones involved in the program, and even some of those may have been surprised as well.
Head coach Chris Holtmann and his staff did an absolutely tremendous job prior to and during their first season in Columbus, but they had plenty of talent on the roster as well, even if the roster was very thin. The Buckeyes had just 10 scholarship players, three of which were incoming freshman, with one of those being Musa Jallow, who skipped out on his senior year of high school to move on to college one year early. But even with all that said, the new coaching staff and thin roster could all still count on the seniors to carry them, a group that was not only talented but were the type of seniors that every coach would love to have.
The group, which included Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, and graduate transfer Andrew Dakich, never had a doubt about what Ohio State could do this season. Whether it was their leadership, heart, toughness, or a number of other great qualities, the team could lean on them to get them through what was expected to be a long, tough season on the hardwood. Although the Buckeyes didn’t have much depth on their roster, they had three seniors, plus Dakich, that they could use as sort of a safety net. They provided defense, scoring, rebounding, and almost everything both on and off the court that a coach would want from his (or her) group of seniors. They made up for all the flaws that were on Holtmann’s first team in Columbus.
While the four led the Buckeyes to an incredible season that barely anyone expected, with Bates-Diop officially declaring for the NBA Draft Monday afternoon, all four are now gone from Ohio State’s program. So now what? That seems to be the biggest question heading into next winter. How will Ohio State make up for what those four seniors not only brought in terms of the box score, but also the intangibles, along with everything they did off the court as well. It will be very tough, if not impossible, to replace, honestly.
In terms of what the four brought on the court, well, let’s take a look:
If you looked at just the numbers, the seniors will be missed tremendously. Add in what they brought that isn’t on the box score and the loss of the four will be felt even more.
Every program goes through this almost every offseason, but it’s even tougher for the Buckeyes due to the program’s recruiting mishaps over the last handful of years. While Matta’s Ohio problem is well known to many, the biggest effect of his recruiting (or lack thereof) that will be felt next season is the fact that the entire 2015 class transferred from the program prior to Holtmann arriving on campus. The five-player class, which consisted of shooting guards JaQuan Lyle and Austin Grandstaff, center Daniel Giddens, point guard A.J. Harris, and small forward Mickey Mitchell, was ranked No. 5 in the country and atop the Big Ten. All five should be entering their senior seasons at Ohio State in 2018-19. Instead, a majority of them were busy leading their new teams to March Madness. Holtmann’s Buckeyes are missing all five and in a humongous hole after losing all four seniors as well, a hole that could be tough to dig out of next season. Don’t get me wrong, Matta was a tremendous coach, the best on in program history, but those recruiting mishaps were part of the reason why he is no longer the coach at Ohio State. It’s also part of the reason why Holtmann has his hands full in 2018-19.
Then again, he proved that he can lead his team to highly exceed expectations, so you can never (and should never) count out Ohio State on the hardwood. Although plenty of talent returns for the Buckeyes next season, along with the incoming recruiting class, Holtmann will have his hands full trying to make up for what the four seniors brought to the program, along with that entire class that transferred. Keep in mind, that class could have all been a group of seniors that could have led the Buckeyes in 2018-19, instead, Holtmann’s squad currently only has three players that will be seniors next season: A walk-on, a transfer from two years ago, and a walk-on-turned-scholarship player. Although it’s tough to talk about what could have been, it may be too hard to pass up next winter.
Due to Ohio State having so many scholarships available, Columbus could be a prime landing spot for fifth-year seniors who are looking to spend their final year of elgibility at a high-major program that will give them plenty of exposure while improving their game and trying to make it to the next level. Here’s to hoping Holtmann and the Buckeyes can make some magic happen again on the hardwood because, even after an impressive season, many may give them some low expectations next season.