After a wretched 2016-’17 campaign, Ohio State’s turbulent offseason has tipped the balance from answers to questions with violent force. Between Thad Matta’s departure, outbound transfers, lost recruits, a new coaching staff, and a slew of new faces, already low expectations have continued their descent.
Within those low expectations, though, light cracks through. Incoming coach Chris Holtmann has a lease on loss, as he will not be relied upon for an immediate turnaround. That long leash hasn’t stopped him from building future hope either. In the last week alone, the Buckeyes have landed four commitments for their 2018 class, with two of them ranking in the top 150.
While the 2018-19 season looks promising, Ohio State must get there first. This season is represented by an aura of uncertainty. Let’s take a look at the three biggest questions facing the Buckeyes.
Three Questions for Ohio State:
1. What Impact Will Chris Holtmann Have on the Program?
Chris Holtman enters Columbus as the follow up to Thad Matta, arguably the greatest coach the program has ever seen. That may be a tall order for some, but for Holtmann, it’s simply business as usual. After a short tenure with Gardner-Webb, Hotlmann headed to Butler tasked with maintaining a Brad Stevens program that reached consecutive National Championship games.
After Stephens upgraded amateur to professional and traded blue and white for green, black, and gold, a dip in Bulldog quality was reasonably assumed. Holtmann answered the doubters by reaching the NCAA Tournament in all three of his seasons with the program, capped off by a Sweet 16 appearance last year.
This time, though, the score is a bit different. Instead of maintaining, Holtmann is tasked with building. As questions have swirled regarding his ability to do so, early returns have been promising. In short order, Holtmann has flipped former Butler commit Kyle Young, maintained the commitment from Kaleb Wesson, and secured and successfully persuaded Mussa Jallow to reclassify for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, his 2018 class has skyrocketed to 2nd in the Big Ten and 9th overall.
Recruiting is an area absolutely paramount to success, but more important is what a coach can get from the talent on the floor. In that regard, Holtmann remains a question mark. The track record may be there, but how much of that was due to a rock-solid Stevens program? This season should serve to clarify that further, as wins with this roster may be hard to come by.
2. Can Jae’Sean Tate Make the Leap to B1G Elite?
Chris Holtmann may have some uncertainty surrounding young and unproven players comprising his roster, but Jae’Sean Tate provides the team with a weathered and hardened veteran anchor. Entering his senior season, Tate has seen the highs and lows of the Buckeye program in his tenure. His freshman season Ohio State knocked off VCU in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Tate has yet to see the Tournament since.
For Tate, leading the Buckeyes is isn’t just something he’s is prepared for, it’s routine.
“This is the third year I’ll be a captain, so it’s nothing new,” Tate told BTPowerhouse. “Just trying to improve from the last two years, but of course, senior year, trying to be the best leader I can be out of the three years as captain of the team.”
Despite his experience, floor general mentality, and skillset, Tate has yet to make a first, second, or third All-Big Ten team roster. Last season the multi-faceted wing averaged 14.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2 assists while shooting 54% from the field, coming away with his second consecutive year of All-Big Ten Honorable Mention recognition.
If Tate is going to make the leap into the elite ranks of the Big Ten this season, one thing rings clear. He is going to do it by continuing to exploit opponents with his versatility.
“This summer I’ve look at lot at Lance Stephenson, Draymond Green and some of D-Wade’s offensive skillsets,” Tate said. “Those are my big three, were pretty close in height, weight, size, and type of play.”
3. How Will the Incoming Freshmen Perform?
Ohio State lost a large chunk of production from front and back court players alike this offseason. Though there are several returning underclassmen that should see increased roles this season, the ability of the incoming freshman to fill the minute craters will go a long way towards the Buckeye’s success this offseason.
Highlighting the group is 4-star center Kaleb Wesson. A traditional back to the basket big, Wesson will look to do most of his damage on the block. After losing Marc Loving, David Bell to transfer, and Trevor Thompson to the draft, Ohio State will likely lean on Wesson to patch the holes created by the departures.
4-star forwards Kyle Young and Musa Jallow do most of their damage on the wing, and while they may not have the impact of Wesson, the minutes and rotational security they provide will be a big factor in how the team performs.
All said, Ohio State has an uphill battle towards conference prominence. But given the leadership they possess in Tate and the talent that comprises the incoming class, Holtmann has tools to work with. Just have far those tools take them should be an interesting development as the season unfolds.