The Ohio State Buckeyes enter this season in a state of flux. Their immense offseason losses and weighty questions have propelled the narrative surrounding the program, and little can be found in terms of definitive answers. A legendary coach and prime minutes contributed by quality players swiftly left the building. The end result was new hire Chris Holtmann arriving in Columbus lacking anything to tangibly hang his hat on. But through old school grit and pounded pavement, the Buckeyes have come out of the terrific wreckage not only in one piece, but with a defined vision for the future.
Theoretical offseason success lends little in the way of on court clarity, however. The roster has pieces, but how will they fit? Given the number of minutes needed, and the lack of experienced players to fill them, youth trades development for reliance – and this squad isn’t Kentucky.
Thankfully for Ohio State, though, the monumental lifting is nearing an end. Baggage shed, the program can shift its focus away from plugging bodies and cauterizing bleeding, to actually playing basketball. Chris Hotlmann wants to win. Jae’Sean Tate wants to win. This team, after so many successful years gave way to so many putrid ones, wants to win. The storylines heading into this season will play a big role in determining just how successful Ohio State will be.
The Chris Holtmann Era Begins
Thad Matta’s exit sent the Ohio State program scrambling. “Mutual departure” controlled the headlines, but replacing a coach of that magnitude, one that connected with players and ascended the school to such monumental heights, was a tall order. An order that only grew considering the move was made in June, and a quick scan of the landscape returned little in the way of high profile, upstart coaches.
The mania reached a crescendo when an unlikely pairing looked finalized between the Buckeyes and Creighton’s Greg McDermott. A bad situation turned worse, though, as the Bluejays coach spurned Ohio State, taking to Twitter to reaffirm his commitment to Omaha.
Meanwhile, Chris Holtmann had just wrapped up his fourth straight 20+ win season (spanning two schools), and third straight season advancing to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. After taking over a Butler program turned national contender by Brad Stevens, Holtmann ensured a dip in production would not befall the Bulldogs.
Despite a lack of experience, the Buckeyes jumped. Holtmann represents the right hunger and grit Columbus has grown accustom to during the 13-year tenure of Thad Matta. Whether he can repeat the success of Matta, however, will only materialize with time.
Recruiting Prowess Resurfaces
The driving force between the Ohio State and Thad Matta rift could certainly be attributed to a recent lack of success in the win column, however a deeper concern simmered and ultimately boiled over. Simply put, The Ohio State University lacked a consistency in pulling the top talent from its own backyard, The state of Ohio. Heading into 2017, Matta and the Buckeyes had three high profile players all but locked up in Darius Bazley, Dane Goodwin, and Justin Ahrens. But after failing to appear in even the NIT, Bazley boisterously jumped ship. With an ousted Matta, Goodwin and Ahrens quickly followed.
Holtmann came into the program with full knowledge of the expectations laid before him – restore the recruiting prosperity. Just four months into his tenure, that’s exactly what he has done.
First order of business was bringing over former Butler commit Kyle Young. A 4-star recruit, Young got the ball rolling for Holtmann and the Buckeyes, and several dominos fell in quick succession. Musa Jallow was next, and though initially a member of the 2018 class, the sense of immediacy was successfully conveyed. Jallow reclassed to 2017 and will contribute this season.
The 2018 class has been where Holtmann has truly made his mark. In course of one week in September, Ohio State landed 4-star recruits Luther Muhammed and Jaedon LeDee, as well as 3-star recruits in Duane Washington and a recommitted Justin Ahrens. The class skyrocketed to 5th overall for the Big Ten, and 11th nationally.
So far, it would seem, Chris Holtmann has demolished expectations.
An Identity of Uncertainty
More than anything, the prevailing theme of the Ohio State Buckeyes is the lack of a prevailing theme. After so much turnover at the core of the program, the team that takes the court this season is one that lacks precedent.
The Buckeyes are returning key members in Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop, and Kam Williams, but looking at the remainder of the roster leaves more questions on the table than answers. Roles players in Andre Wesson, C.J. Jackson, and Micah Potter will assume expanded responsibility, and the freshmen will be counted on early, but just what their output will be remains marred in uncertainty.
Coach Chris Holtmann, too, is a bit of a wildcard. After just six seasons at the helm, the prodigious coach is now tasked with turning around a program with an expectation of winning. Can he do it? The potential is there, but for now, that’s all it remains – potential. This Ohio State squad can finish the season anywhere in the Big Ten power structure. Regardless of what happens, though, if the gritty resilience displayed this offseason is any indication, the Buckeyes will be anything but a pushover.