If Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann has proven anything since he arrived in Columbus is mere 21 months ago, it’s that you should never doubt him or his team. He proved that again Friday night when the 11-seeded Buckeyes upset the sixth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones, 62-59, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was Holtmann’s fifth-straight win in the first round of the tournament. Decent, right?
Head Coaches To Lead Their Teams To 5 Straight 1st Round Tourney Wins:
— Jason Belzer (@JasonBelzer) March 23, 2019
People, media members and fans included, have questioned the head coach and Ohio State teams each of the last two seasons. Last season, they were projected to finish as one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. They finished the 2017-18 regular season with the second-best record in the conference and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This season, they were projected to finish in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten. While they did just that, finishing the regular season with a 19-14 (8-12) record, Holtmann’s Buckeyes once proved that they will step up when it matters most, as they did Friday night against the higher-seeded Cyclones.
Until the head coach gets his own guys on campus,1 he will continue to get the best out of his current team. There will be plenty of games where their opponent will have more talent, but two things are guaranteed for Ohio State under Holtmann: They will continue to give full, 100 percent effort and they will do anything and everything possible to get ready for their opposition,2 giving themselves the best chance to win even if the other team may be the better team on paper. They proved that against Iowa State.
Big man Kaleb Wesson is Ohio State’s best player this season. When he’s off or missing a game, the Buckeyes struggle mightily on the offensive side of the ball. That became painfully obvious during Wesson’s three-game suspension to conclude the regular season. When he’s on, the scarlet and gray rely on him. The offense goes through him. Whether it’s the sophomore getting the ball and scoring or receiving a pass, getting double teamed, and finding an open teammate, Ohio State’s at their best when they go through Wesson offensively. Friday night, they did just that. The big man finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, and two steals. It was one of his best games of the season. Add in that Keyshawn Woods (19 points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal in 40 minutes) and Musa Jallow (11 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals, one block) had some of their best games of the season and well, it was a recipe for success.
“We knew we weren’t going to win unless he imposed himself physically for as many minutes as we could ride him,” Holtmann said of Wesson following the game. “He had to stay out of foul trouble in order to make that happen. You’re never sure when you’re watching tape if you can attack them in certain areas until you’re actually playing. We did feel like we could get the ball in spots. Our guys did a great job getting it to him, and he did a tremendous job imposing himself. He got a little bit tired in the second half, and it affected his defense, but he was fantastic.”
Along with running their offense through Wesson, the scarlet and gray also did an exceptional job defensively as well. No matter which team is more talented on paper, if you give all-out effort on the defensive side of the ball, there’s a good chance that your team will stay in the game. The Buckeyes did just that in their win over Iowa State. They held a fast paced, very good offense to just 59 points. While part of that was due to the Buckeyes slowing the game down, their defensive effort Friday night shouldn’t go unnoticed.
“Even late when we couldn’t score, we still were able to get stops,” Woods said of Ohio State’s defensive performance. “We’ve just got to keep that going with us and we can continue to win games in this tournament.”
“I told our guys that if we were going to win the game, we would need to have to most complete and best defensive effort of the year. I firmly believed that,” Holtmann added. “I did not think we could be anything but our very best and most complete defensive effort team-wise, and I didn’t think we’d win if we didn’t. I think it was our best.”
Plenty of people have continued to doubt Holtmann, myself included, but the head coach has already proven that he is just different, in a good way. There’s something special brewing on the hardwood in Columbus and it’s all thanks to what the head coach has brought to the Buckeyes. Just remember: The future of the basketball Buckeyes will only become brighter and brighter, too. Never doubt Holtmann, folks.
This season, Ohio State can keep themselves in any game if they play lockdown defense, run their offense through Wesson, and some role players step up and can provide some much-needed scoring. That recipe for success become even more obvious in the upset over Iowa State.
“I think there is a bit of a blueprint in terms of what you have to be night in and night out in order to win, at least that’s the way that I’ve found it is,” Holtmann said. “And for our team right now to win, it did need to be a certain type of a game. And if it’s ugly, it’s ugly. It needed to be a certain type of game for us to be able to play against (Iowa State) because they’re so gifted offensively. I think we made it that.
“Sorry if people didn’t enjoy it.”
Buckeye Nation enjoyed it, coach, and that’s all that matters.
- Keep in mind, Ohio State has one of the best recruiting classes in the country in 2019. [↩]
- Shoutout to video coordinator Kyle Davis and the student managers for all the work they do behind the scenes. [↩]