How do you know you have a good coach? There are a lot of ways to win. There are coaches that win by recruiting all of the talent (Calipari). There are coaches that win with defense (Self, Bennett), there are coaches that win with offense (Wright, Beilein). There are coaches that play the transfer market (Hoiberg, Musselman), and there are coaches that recruit internationally (Few).
There's no one way to win, but the thing about all great coaches is their aversion to the concept of a rebuilding season. It's not just foreign, but it sounds like an excuse for losing. Great coaches won't have any of it. Gregg Marshall lost 4 of his starters plus his 6th man in 2012, right after winning 27 games. No one would have criticized him for a mediocre season. Rebuilds happen, right? Instead, Marshall won 30 games en route to the Final Four the next season. He has not lost fewer than 25 games since.
Last year was supposed to be a rebuild for Ohio State. My season preview is an embarrassing monument to that. Some choice quotes:
Andrew Dakich transferred to the Buckeyes, but it's hard to see the season going well if he's getting 20 minutes a game
He played 19 MPG, and Ohio State went 15-3 in the Big Ten.
I don't see a lot of strong bets to land on an All-Conference team.
Keita Bates-Diop was the Player of the Year. Jae'Sean Tate made the 2nd Team.
[Kam] Williams might be the only three-point threat on the roster
Six players shot 35 percent or better from 3.
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.
Ohio State had the best defense in the Big Ten, and opponents shot just 45 percent on 2s.
That's painful to read. But even then, I recognized Ohio State might have something special in Chris Holtmann. Go read the whole thing if you need to be convinced, but it concludes that "Because Chris Holtmann" might be a good enough reason to be optimistic.
Well, it turns out that was true. Holtmann played Dakich 20 minutes a game, and it worked. He tasked Tate with being something of a Draymond Green forward, without the outside shot. KBD was obviously a do-everything dynamo, but Kaleb Wesson turned himself into a top tier player as well.
Moreover, what I saw from Holtmann on a game to game basis was how well-prepared the team was. It's early, but I'll be surprised the next time Holtmann has a bad season. It's already been a while, his last losing season was in 2012, his 2nd year at Gardner Webb. While at Butler, his final Pomeroy ranking never fell below 30.
And yet, the media picked the Buckeyes 8th this season.
Are we going to have to go through this like we did with Bo Ryan? Sure, Ohio State loses KBD, Tate, and Williams. But on the other hand, Holtmann does not have to worry about 20 MPG being manned by a walkon—a walkon that had actually been gently pushed out by another Big Ten team. Basically, Michigan did not think Dakich had enough value to justify the chair.
Returning is Kaleb Wesson, one of the best freshmen in the league last year, who I expect big things from this season. One scary thought is that Wesson attempted a few 3s last year, which tends to bode well for breakouts for taller players. Also returning is CJ Jackson, who can man point guard duties capably enough. Andre Wesson will likely join his brother in the starting lineup, though his usage needs to improve. The team welcomes a couple of top-100 recruits (Luther Muhammad and Jaedon LeDee). Muhammad mostly showed as an outside shooter in AAU ball, while LeDee was a double double threat. The Buckeyes also return a couple of lesser heralded sophomores, and leaps from either of them would be welcome.
The team lacks for three seniors with prior track records of solid performance, sure. But there's a proven playmaker in Wesson, offensive weapons in Jackson and Micah Potter, leap candidates, and solid recruits. Oh, and Holtmann is still the coach.
That's enough, frankly. The lowest I can put the Buckeyes is 5th in the Big Ten, until Holtmann provides reason to doubt that.