By Seth Rivello
This is the first year since 2004 Thad Matta isn’t drawing up plays for Ohio State basketball.
The last three seasons have been average for Matta to say the least. In the 2014-2015 season, the Buckeyes went 24-11 with a Sweet Sixteen loss in the men’s basketball championship. In 2015-16, it finished 21-14 with a second round loss in the NIT tournament. In 2016-2017, OSU went 17-15. Afterthe disappointing endings to the seasons, recruits didn’t want to be a part of the team any longer and left.
Before the 2015-2016 season, Ohio State lost two guards and a forward who were freshmen. A.J. Harris left to join New Mexico State, Austin Grandstaff went to join DePaul, and the big man, Mickey Mitchell, left for Arizona State. To top that off, in the 2016-2017 season, Matta lost JaQuan Lyle, one of his top scorers. Lyle went onto join the New Mexico Lobos.
Ohio State had enough and decided to bring in Chris Holtmann. Holtmann spent the last three seasons coaching at Butler University. Holtmann led the Bulldogs to three straight winning seasons including a Sweet 16 appearance where he was beaten by the future tournament winners North Carolina Tar Heels.
The Buckeyes hold an 18-4 with a 9-0 record against Big 10 opponents. It is ranked 13th in the nation. The biggest win came this month against the Michigan State Spartans who at the time were ranked first in the nation. The Buckeyes held Miles Bridges to 17 points on 7-19 shooting. On the other hand, the Spartans couldn’t stop the experienced forward Keita Bates-Diop.
Bates-Diop is having his best season as a junior and against the number one ranked team, he shot 12-21 for 32 points, grabbed seven rebounds and three steals. It seemed like all offense ran through Bates-Diop as the Buckeyes grabbed a victory 80-64.
Ohio State is rolling on an eight-game win streak. Its last loss was at home to a fifth-ranked North Carolina team 86-72. February is a big month for the Bucks as they play the third-ranked Purdue Boilermakers in West Lafayette, IN and the 25th-ranked Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
Bates-Diop is averaging 19.7 points per game. That is something fans haven’t seen since D’Angelo Russell was in uniform a few years back. That year, Russell averaged 19.3 ppg but he was very aggressive with his shots. Russell took 515 shots that year with Sam Thompson the next closest with 290 shots. That team did make the tournament but didn’t last long because of its inability to play as a team.
This year is different. You have Bates-Diop but you also have three others scoring in double digits. Guard C.J. Jackson is averaging 13.1 ppg and leading the team with 4.4 assists. Jae’Sean Tate at forward is averaging 12.6 ppg and Kaleb Wesson with 11.3 ppg.
This team is different from the others top to bottom. A new coach focused on strong defense and even play, and multiple guys willing to share the ball. Lyle and Russell weren’t the kind of guards to share the ball and get others involved. The result was no tournament or poor tournament play. I clearly expect a tournament appearance but not a deep one yet. A small one will spark a flame, something to get big recruits to look and motivate these guys for the years to come. Something big is on the horizon for Ohio State hoops.