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Five candidates that have a real shot at becoming the next Ohio State basketball coach

Okay fine, six.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-North Carolina vs Butler Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Thad Matta was released as head coach of the Ohio State basketball program. Now, the Buckeyes are on the clock to find a new head coach.

With Archie Miller now at Indiana, that’s one potential Matta successor off the board. Luckily, there are a handful of other names that have popped up on the coach search.

5 reasonable guys in the running to be the next OSU basketball coach

Chris Holtmann — Butler

It would seem wise for the Buckeyes to go back to the same wells for their next head coach. Like Matta, Holtmann has done a nice job at making the Butler Bulldogs not only a tournament team, but a tourney team that makes a run in March.

This past season, Holtmann’s Bulldogs marched to the Sweet 16, before being toppled by the eventual national champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels. Over the course of three seasons at the helm of the Big East power, Holtmann has produced a commendable 70-31 record -- and hasn’t finished below 4th place in the conference.

Butler is a great place for a coach to make a name for themselves. Matta used his success at Butler to make the leap to Xavier — and then to Ohio State. Brad Stevens, who now is the coach of the Boston Celtics, took the Bulldogs on a magical journey that included two Final Four appearances.

It wouldn’t be too surprising if the Buckeyes actually went back and pulled Holtmann out of the friendly confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse, and into a new friendly confines within The Schottenstein Center.

Chris Mack – Xavier

Like Holtmann, don’t be surprised if the Bucks retraced their steps to find their next head coach. Xavier was a place Matta coached at before, so it would make sense to go back and look to see if they possess the next Ohio State head coach, right?

Chris Mack is the one currently in the HC chair for the Musketeers — and he’s done such a good job that he’s popped up on the Buckeyes radar. Whether in the Atlantic-10 or Big East, Mack made sure Xavier was a team to be reckoned with. Sweet 16 appearances are the norm for the Musketeers, but Mack exceeded the norm this past season — Xavier reached the Elite 8 for the first time since 2008.

However, getting Mack out of the Cincinnati area may be tough. Mack played college basketball at Xavier, so that means the Buckeyes would need to make a deal so sweet that it breaks the loyalty between Xavier and Mack. While OSU has the resources, getting Mack might be easier said than done.

Mick Cronin – Cincinnati

Like Mack, the in-state factor comes into play with Mick Cronin. Cronin is the man in charge of the Cincinnati Bearcats, and a jump to the flagship school in the Buckeye State would make sense.

Cronin has reached the NCAA Tournament in seven consecutive seasons. In the past season, the Bearcats reached the 30-win plateau — making Cronin a hot commodity in college basketball.

UNLV has tried to get Cronin out of Cincinnati, but to no avail. Even though Ohio State is a premier landing spot for any coach, pulling a coach away from their alma mater is a tall order, and Cronin did go to UC, after all.

However, Thad Matta’s alma mater was Butler, and he left them for Xavier. So, anything is possible.

Billy Donovan — Oklahoma City Thunder

Maybe the best person to take over is someone who has beaten you?

Billy Donovan beat Thad Matta in 2007 for a national championship; a year after his Florida Gators knocked off the UCLA Bruins to claim the coach’s first title. The Florida Gators reached new heights with Donovan roaming courtside. In the 19 seasons as head coach, Donovan and his Gators went to the Final Four on four separate occasions, and won the SEC regular seasons on four separate occasions.

Now, Donovan is in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and has an MVP candidate on his squad in Russell Westbrook. Even though the Thunder were bounced in the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs, Donovan at least got the team to postseason play.

Before all the head coaching jobs, Donovan spent his playing days at Providence and was coached by Rick Pitino, who is now at Louisville. As a player for the Friars, Donovan went to the 1987 Final Four.

Getting to Final Fours and being part of good basketball teams is something Donovan can do well. When Donovan was flourishing as head coach at UF, Urban Meyer was doing the same on the football field with the Gators, too. It could be a coaching reunion in Columbus — much to the dismay of Gator Nation.

Tom Crean — Formerly of the Indiana Hoosiers

Tom Crean has success in the college basketball world; he’s won Big Ten regular season titles at Indiana, and took Marquette to the Final Four in 2003.

Indiana dumped Crean at the end of the 2016-17 season, and got Archie Miller — who was once thought to be the Buckeyes’ next coach. The reason for Crean’s departure from the Hoosiers is tied to performance, which has been all over the place for the past five seasons. Since 2012-13, Crean has won two Big Ten regular season titles and reached the Sweet 16 on two occasions. Also in that timespan: Indiana has finished in 8th, 7th and 10th in the Big Ten standings. The nail in Crean’s IU coffin came after the Hoosiers lost to Georgia Tech in the 2017 NIT.

Unlike the other coaches, Crean is available. There’s no contract to buyout; all the Buckeyes have to do is pay the man. The added juiciness of getting Crean comes from the fact that he’s an in-law to John Harbaugh. When Crean was coaching at IU, Harbaugh made the way to Bloomington, Ind. for games. If Crean were to go to OSU, would Harbaugh do the same?

That added dimension would be fascinating to see.

And one more bonus name that’s popped up a few times

Buzz Williams — Virginia Tech

There’s another name that’s popped up on a few potential coaching candidate lists that could also be a potential home run, Buzz Williams.

Williams has experience mining the midwest when he coached at Marquette from 2008 to 2014, before unexpectedly jumping to Virginia Tech. He’s already worked to rebuild a moribund Tech program, taking them back to the NCAA Tournament, and has battled the Buckeyes for recruits a few times on the trail.

He’s young (44). He’s got a big personality. He has experience turning around programs and is a great recruiter. He’ll be expensive to pry out of Blacksburg, but Ohio State has the money to go after a big name here.