17-18 Season Preview: Ohio State

Here's a list of teams that have won a Big Ten conference title more recently than Thad Matta:

  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Wisconsin
  • Purdue

End of list. Life, it turns out, does come at you fast. I won't bemoan the Matta firing again, I've done that enough. But if you're Chris Holtmann, where exactly are expectations? On the one hand, they fired an extremely successful coach with seemingly more than a couple more years left in the tank over a couple of bad recruiting classes mixed in with some unexpected transfers, leading to two subpar seasons. So, expectations, you'd figure, would be high.

On the other hand, this team might not be able to fill a rotation with scholarship players. The available candidates to man the point guard position are CJ Jackson and,...actually, I think that's it. Kam Williams wants to give it a try but he had 31 assists in 32 games last year, against 34 turnovers. I don't see it. The Buckeyes also added a couple of freshmen guards late, but those were also the sort of pickups that are generally available late in the summer. Andrew Dakich transferred to the Buckeyes, but it's hard to see the season going well if he's getting 20 minutes a game—though his presence may explain some of the strange exuberance I've been seeing.

This isn't to say there are not talented players in Columbus. Keita Bates-Diop returns from injury and is one of the better two-way players in the Big Ten. Jae'Sean Tate is still difficult to contain in the paint. Micah Potter and Andre Wesson bring a lot of potential upside to their sophomore seasons (big men who attempt 3s). And there are at least a couple of newcomers that should be capable if handed rotation minutes. Even so, I don't see a lot of strong bets to land on an All-Conference team. Tate appears to be the strongest candidate, and he's a 6-4 power forward that is an offensive liability once he has to shoot beyond 8 feet or so (that includes free throws). Tate is to be appreciated for letting his game decide what kind of player he should be, rather than his height, but his height does limit his upside. Additionally, Williams might be the only three-point threat on the roster, and I don't want to think about post defense should freshman Kaleb Wesson or sophomore Micah Potter (who, per Synergy, was one of the worst defensive players in all of college basketball last season) prove incapable.

So there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. But there are reasons for optimism, too, beginning with the coach. Chris Holtmann comes from Butler, where he compiled a 3-season conference mark of 34-20, all in the Big East (I'm old enough to remember when Butler was a mid-major program). Let's do another list—here's a list of Big East teams with more conference wins in that span:

  • Villanova

End of list. I know Louisville and Syracuse are no longer Big East teams, but it remains a formidable conference. Finishing second to the pinnacle of Jay Wright's career is no small feat, particularly because Holtmann hasn't been winning due to a steady stream of McDonald's All-Americans heading to Indianapolis. Butler's largely been grabbing the same (or slightly upgraded) 3-stars they were reeling in back in the Atlantic 10 days. This year's Buckeye roster will have at least as good as talent as he had at his disposal when he was leading the Bulldogs.

Thus, Holtmann falls into a similar category as Brad Underwood, in that he's won in places and to a degree where that's not supposed to happen. He is also like Underwood in that he has not been a head coach for very long, so this might simply be a small sample size playing tricks. Still, if you were to run into a bullish Buckeye fan who sees no reason why the NCAA Tournament should not be well within reach, don't dismiss it. "Because Chris Holtmann" might be a good enough answer on its own.

It sure would be nice to have a point guard, however.