And a new manager with some big shoes to fill
A new season of college basketball is upon us. A coaching change that flew under the radar, on account of Louisville dominating headlines for the wrong reasons, was in Columbus, at The Ohio State University. Out goes legendary coach, Thad Matta, his .733 win percentage (337-123), two appearances in the Final Four, one in the Elite Eight, two in the Sweet Sixteen, five total Big Ten titles, and four Big Ten tournament championships. In comes former Butler head coach, Chris Holtmann, who comes off of 20-win campaigns in each of the three Bulldogs’ seasons. Holtmann has large shoes to fill considering Matta failed to reach 20 wins just once in his 13 years coaching the Buckeyes.
However, despite Matta’s tremendous legacy, a hot seat was ignited by disappointing seasons and lost recruits. The latter of which was highlighted by Matta’s infamous 2015 recruiting class. The nationally-ranked class featured former leading scorer, JaQuan Lyle, along with the likes of Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens, A.J. Harris, Mickey Mitchell (all of which are no longer with the program). Aside from Lyle, the others didn’t get playing time and transferred as a result. Lyle quit the team and soon after was arrested for public intoxication, resulting in him landing at New Mexico as a transfer.
Yet still, many, including all of Matta’s notable alumni, were disappointed with the coaching change. The resume spoke (and still speaks) for itself. But despite being a football school, Buckeye Nation expects to be competing for Big Ten titles on the court, just like its women’s team does, who look to make the Final Four, which happens to be hosted in Columbus. Even Thad Matta believers until the very end could not defend the entirety of a recruiting class transferring, as well as his final four seasons, finishing fifth, sixth, seventh, and tied for tenth. Ohio State finished just 17-15 (7-11) in what turned out to be Matta’s last season, failing to garner an invite to a single post-season tournament.
Holtmann has a difficult task at hand. A depleted roster, thanks to an entire recruiting class transferring, left him with a few veterans, and a need for recruits and depth immediately. Those returning are led by Jae’Sean Tate, back-from-medical-redshirt Keita Bates-Diop, Kam Williams, Micah Potter, and the sole point guard on the roster, C.J. Jackson. Holtmann was immediately able to flip Butler recruit, Kyle Young to Ohio State, in addition to center Kaleb Wesson, and off-guard Musa Jallow. Not only is his 2017 recruiting class an immediate, necessary impact, but Holtmann’s 2018 class has also been in the consensus top 25 class rankings, both of which have featured two 4-star recruits.
Realistically, no one expects the Buckeyes to immediately contend again. But making a splash? Count on them for that. There’s nothing more dangerous than a team with talent but no heavy expectation. Other than ESPN’s Dan Dakich, father of Ohio State graduate transfer, Andrew Dakich, predicting the Buckeyes reach San Antonio for the Final Four. As Kam Williams put it, “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people going forward because nobody has us anywhere. We really don’t have anything to lose. That’s the type of energy we’re going to come and play with. Especially with me and [Tate], we want to go out with a bang. We’re going to try to do whatever it takes to get Ohio State back on the map.”
The Buckeyes do have a unique blend of experience that can score, especially in Tate, Bates-Diop, and Williams, as well as an infusion of youth and talent. For most teams that’s usually a recipe for success; however, the major transition of the program will definitely rear its ugly head. It would be hard not to after years of injury, sloppy play, and turnover-riddled basketball.
Combine no expectations with a conference in transition, and the Buckeyes could really make waves. Outside of Michigan State, every program has some sort of uncertainty to go along with it. Attendance at the Schottenstein Center has been a major concern for Ohio State basketball the last few years. Coach Holtmann did a fantastic job in appealing to Buckeye fans, already calling for some games to be played in their historic previous home, St. John’s Arena. But as always, winning cures all in a culture of what have you done for me lately? no matter what the location.
The talent Coach Holtmann and his staff are able to develop, both into wins and skill that translates to the next level, will be the difference. Outside of D’Angelo Russell, Evan Turner, and Jared Sullinger (somewhat), Thad Matta did not have NBA talent correlate to his accolades. That’s yet another task to add to Holtmann’s list. Because developing talent for the next level attracts recruits, recruits attract other recruits and lead to wins, wins lead to attendance and support. Seems simple enough, but still a long way away right now.
Luckily for a Buckeye Nation desperate for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013, there’s been a hell of a start to a brand new era in Columbus.