Holtmann Era Begins
So here we go. For the first time since the summer of 2004, Thad Matta is no longer the head men’s basketball coach at The Ohio State University.
He was fired, strangely, in June, after 13 seasons on the bench and compiling more wins than any coach in program history.
Matta’s successor, Chris Holtmann, appears to be a younger version. He’s energetically challenging his new team in practice, talking about displaying an open offense built on trust, and wants the Buckeyes to overperform by using hustle and guile. He even came to OSU via Butler, Matta’s alma mater.
Tonight, the Holtmann era begins. Ohio State plays host to Robert Morris at the Schottenstein Center at 7 p.m. That the game can only be viewed online (BTB2Go.com) doesn’t matter – it’s the beginning of something different.
Of course, Buckeye fans don’t expect to suddenly follow a powerhouse program again. Ohio State was 17-15 last season, a Matta-era-worst 7-11 in the Big Ten and again suffered attrition as JaQuan Lyle was booted and Trevor Thompson bolted. Some names such as Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams are familiar. Keita Bates-Diop is coming off an injury that robbed him most of last season. C.J. Jackson and Andre Wesson will have to play major roles in their second seasons.
Braxton Beverly decided to transfer out of the program after Holtmann arrived and others decommitted but Kaleb Wesson stayed true to his promise and should help Micah Potter inside. Andrew Dakich transferred over from Michigan, of all places. And the new coaching staff is excited about true freshmen Kyle Young and Musa Jallow.
Robert Morris should be an ideal lead-off opponent. For the third straight year, the Colonials had their leading scorer transfer out of the program – in the latest case, Isaiah Still – and also had to wave goodbye to four seniors. They are coming off a 14-19 season and, in fact, have had a losing mark the past two years after a decade of contention in the Northeast Conference.
Robert Morris does have a pair of rising guards in Dachon Burke and Matt McConnell who could be a bit of a handful for a thin Ohio State backcourt. However, the Colonials figure to be overmatched. Same for Radford on Sunday (2 p.m.)
In fact, Ohio State is a combined 26-0 all-time vs. teams representing the Northeast and Big South conferences, the leagues of the first two opponents this season. Radford was a similar 14-18 last season but could be a sleeper team in the Big South this year.
Tonight’s game will be Holtmann’s 200th as a college head coach. He came to OSU with a career mark of 114-85 after six seasons in charge – three at Gardner-Webb and three at Butler. Like Matta, he found success quickly. Last season, he was named the Big East Coach of the Year. He was 70-31 at Butler including 25-9 a year ago. His last four teams have won at least 20 games.
That streak certainly is in jeopardy given the current state of the Buckeyes and the schedule ahead. In fact, some fans likely are more attuned to Holtmann’s first recruiting class, which signed on Wednesday. The four high schoolers who signed National Letters-of-Intent are as follows: Justin Ahrens, a 6-5 forward from Versailles, Ohio; Duane Washington, a 6-3 guard from Chatsworth, Cal.; Jaedon LeDee, a 6-9 forward from Houston; and Luther Muhammad, a 6-3 guard from Jersey City, N.J. Athlon deemed that recruiting class as tops in the Big Ten.
Before Ohio State can welcome that quartet, there is Holtmann’s debut season of 2017-18, which will be no picnic.
A Rocky Path
Ohio State opens its Big Ten schedule at Wisconsin Dec. 2 and hosts Michigan Dec. 4 before resuming conference play at Iowa Jan. 4. With the Big Ten Tournament moving to New York City, the conference tournament will be played Feb. 28-March 4 at Madison Square Garden.
The preconference is a minefield. The week of Thanksgiving, OSU will play in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore. That will include a date with national runner-up Gonzaga and another with either Florida or Stanford. The Buckeyes again will take part in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge by hosting Clemson on Nov. 29.
OSU also has re-upped with the CBSSports Classic. The event will take place in New Orleans this season Dec. 23. The Buckeyes take on defending national champion North Carolina while Kentucky faces UCLA.
It’s also worth noting that two of Ohio State’s nine league road games will be played in non-traditional venues this season. Ohio State faces Northwestern Jan. 17 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., while renovations take place at the Wildcats’ Welsh-Ryan Arena. Also, the Buckeyes and Minnesota will play at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Jan. 20 as part of the 2018 Big Ten Super Saturday double-header with the hockey programs from Minnesota and Michigan State.
Ohio State will play 17 regular-season games against 14 teams that advanced to postseason play in 2017 including 11 games with 2017 NCAA Tournament teams.
The 2017-18 schedule follows:
10-Fri. Robert Morris
16-Thurs. Texas Southern
23-Thurs. 2-vs. Gonzaga
24-Fri. 2-vs. Florida/Stanford
26-Sun. 2-vs. TBD
2-Sat. at Wisconsin
9-Sat. William & Mary
16-Sat. Appalachian State
19-Tues. The Citadel
23-Sat. 4-vs. North Carolina
30-Sat. Miami (Ohio)
4-Thurs. at Iowa
7-Sun. Michigan State
14-Sun. at Rutgers
17-Wed. 5-at Northwestern
20-Sat. 6-vs. Minnesota
25-Thurs. Penn State
7-Wed. at Purdue
15-Thurs. at Penn State
18-Sun. at Michigan
23-Fri. at Indiana
28/4-Wed.-Sun. 7-at Big Ten Tournament
1-PK80 Invitational, Columbus, Ohio // 2-PK80 Invitational, Portland, Ore. // 3-Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Columbus // 4-CBSSports Classic, New Orleans // 5-at Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Ill. // 6-at Madison Square Garden, New York City // 7-at Madison Square Garden, New York City