Ohio State kicks off their 2017-18 season tonight at Value City Arena, as they host the the Robert Morris Colonials out of the Northeast Conference. This season marks a new era for the Buckeyes, as it is the first with Chris Holtmann as head coach. The former Butler head coach took over the Ohio State program in June after the Buckeyes parted ways with Thad Matta, who amassed a 337-123 record in 13 seasons as head coach.
Buckeye fans were able to get a look at this year’s squad on Sunday afternoon, as Ohio State beat Wooster 88-63 in an exhibition game. Keita Bates-Diop paced Ohio State on the score sheet, registering 17 points in the blowout win, while freshman Kaleb Wesson added 16 points. Holtmann was able to get a look at nearly everyone on the roster in Sunday’s tuneup game, with 10 of the 13 Buckeyes who played in the game recording at least 10 minutes on the floor.
Even though Ohio State has had plenty of roster turnover the last few years, with players even graduating or transferring to other programs, the Buckeyes do have a solid core for Holtmann to work with in his first season. Not only do seniors Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams return, but redshirt junior Keita Bates-Diop returns after missing the majority of last season due to injury. Sophomores Micah Potter and C.J. Jackson also saw time last season, and even more will be expected of them this year.
Robert Morris may have stability at head coach, with Andrew Toole entering his eighth season as head coach of the Colonials, but the same can’t be said for the rest of their roster. Robert Morris has 10 scholarship newcomers this season, with six of those being incoming freshmen. The only program with more scholarship newcomers this season is Pittsburgh.
Since making the NCAA Tournament in 2015, Robert Morris has struggled over the past two seasons, posting a 10-22 record in the 2015-16 season, and a 14-19 record last year. Much isn’t expected from the Colonials this year, as Robert Morris was picked to finish seventh in the NEC Preseason Coaches Poll.
The Colonials didn’t catch much of a break to start the season, as they’ll play their first eight games of the season on the road, which is their longest road trip to start the season since the 1993-94 season. With so many new faces, the extended road trip will force the team to gel quickly with each other before they open up their home schedule in early December.
The Buckeyes have faced Robert Morris on three other occasions, with Ohio State winning all three of those contests. The last time the Colonials came to Columbus was back in 2004, with the Buckeyes handily defeating Robert Morris 82-50. The other two meetings between the teams came back in 1989 and 1997, with the Buckeyes winning by 27 points in 1989, and 18 points in 1997.
Numbers to know
Tonight’s game marks the 13th contest Ohio State has played against an opponent from the Northeast Conference, with the Buckeyes winning each of the previous 12. Last year the Buckeyes defeated Fairleigh Dickinson 70-62 in early December in their most recent contest against an opponent from the NEC.
Ohio State has posted a 99-17 in regular season home openers. The Buckeyes have won 13 straight home openers. The last time Ohio State failed to win their home opener came in 2003, when the Buckeyes lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Chris Holtmann is the 14th men’s basketball coach in school history. The previous 13 coaches have posted a 10-3 record in their first game as Buckeye head coach. The last head coach to lose his Ohio State debut was Randy Ayers, who beaten 71-53 by DePaul in 1989. Thad Matta’s first game in charge saw the Buckeyes defeat Towson 74-53 in 2004.
Cast of characters
The senior forward from Pickerington is Ohio State’s leading returning scorer after averaging 14.3 points per game last season. Tate has started 76 games during his Ohio State career, and in February’s contest against Maryland became the 54th Buckeye to surpass the 1,000 point mark in his career. Tate has recorded 10 double-doubles in his career, with Ohio State having won seven of those contests.
Ohio State will receive a big boost if Bates-Diop can return to the form he exhibited during the 2015-16 season. Last year the forward from Illinois was limited to just nine games due to injuries, and ended up taking a redshirt. In the 2015-16 season, Bates Diop averaged 11.8 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The junior is about the only familiar face on the Colonials roster. McConnell is the school’s active leader in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. The guard figures to be the centerpoint of Robert Morris’ offense this year, as he averaged 25.5 points per game in the two exhibition matches the Colonials played to get ready for the season.
Williams is the only Ohio native on the Robert Morris roster. The true freshman was part of the St. Vincent-St. Mary squad that won their seventh high school state title earlier this year. The guard scored 17 points in the exhibition win against Niagara, and followed that up with 10 points in the exhibition game against Saint Vincent.
How to watch:
Game time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
Streaming: BTN Plus. To stream this game you will need to create an account, which costs $9.99 per month