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The relationship between players and coaches has returned Ohio State basketball to prominence

New head coach Chris Holtmann and his assistants didn’t waste time in developing a tight bond with the players.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Northwestern Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

“There’s a connection between this group and our coaching staff that’s happened a whole lot quicker than I’ve expected. A whole lot quicker. A lot of that speaks to their ability to be open to what we’re trying to do.”

Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann via Bill Landis, Northeast Ohio Media Group

Everybody knew there was going to be a change in the culture of the Ohio State basketball program when Chris Holtmann accepted the job in June, but nobody expected it to take hold this quickly. Thad Matta was the winningest coach in Ohio State basketball history, but the last few years of Matta’s tenure were plagued by inconsistency and lack of passion from his teams.

What Holtmann has emphasized during his short time in Columbus has been the relationship between players and coaches. Not only did Holtmann buy a house close to campus to make it easier for his players to stop by when they wanted to, but he even went so far as to buy a PS4 and some games to take their mind off of school and basketball.

Despite only being together for a relatively short time, the relationship between players and the coaching staff has blossomed. Not only can the players see the coaches truly care about helping them improve, but the players are also trusting the coaches more. Jae’Sean Tate has had to change some of where he plays with the return of Keita Bates-Diop, but Tate has embraced the change and the team is flourishing. It would have been easy for Tate to be resistant to playing a different role, but he trusted what Holtmann asked him to do.

Ohio State has already defied the odds by starting Big Ten play 9-0. With how much the Buckeyes players and coaches have gone through together having been thrown together so quickly after Ohio State moved on from Matta, their experiences together, and how they’ve persevered, will only help them as they make their way toward the NCAA Tournament.

“Winning is really hard. It’s so hard. It’s hard in general (but) it’s really hard in league play when everybody is on even ground. Appreciating that and appreciating what goes into that is important. Yet at the same time we want to try as much as possible not to focus on the results.”

Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann via Adam Jardy, The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State looks to go 10-0 in Big Ten play tonight when they square off with Penn State, and while the pressure to keep winning is there, the Buckeyes are welcoming the challenge. The Buckeyes aren’t valuing one win as more important than another. A win is a win to Chris Holtmann and his Ohio State team, and they celebrate each one the the same way.

The difference between this year’s Ohio State team and Buckeye teams of the past few years, is that this year’s squad is welcoming adversity and actually responding positively to it. Monday night’s win over Nebraska was the closest for the Buckeyes in Big Ten play, and could help Ohio State down the stretch, since it tested the mental toughness of Holtmann’s team.

The difference between this year’s Ohio State team and other recent iterations has been night and day. Ohio State squads of the last two years probably would have found a way to lose a couple of games that they shouldn’t have during the recent stretch of four games in nine days. This year’s team just has a different toughness, and there for got through the week and a half undefeated. Maybe Dan Dakich wasn’t so crazy when he picked the Buckeyes to go to the Final Four.

The time of year has come when bracket projections from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi are released with more frequency. Today’s edition of Lunardi’s projections sees Ohio State as a two-seed paired up with Bucknell in the East region. If projections were to hold true, it would be a “Battle of the Bucks”, with the Buckeyes taking on the team that is currently the top squad in the Patriot League.

These projections will change plenty of times between now and Selection Sunday, but there are a couple of interesting things to note when it comes to Ohio State. While the seed might fluctuate, as long as Ohio State continues to play good basketball, they could be rewarded with first weekend games in Pittsburgh. No matter where Ohio State goes, they’ll have plenty of fan support, but even more of an advantage would be if they only had to travel a few hours east on I-70.

Three of the four losses Ohio State suffered earlier in the year have now come to teams that are seeded lower than the Buckeyes. North Carolina is currently slotted as a three-seed in the East region, which could see a rematch between the Buckeyes and Tar Heels. Clemson is a four-seed in the Midwest region, while Gonzaga is a six-seed in the West, and Butler a nine-seed in the South.

If Ohio State continues their winning ways, their matchup with Purdue in West Lafayette in a couple of weeks could be for a one-seed in Lunardi’s projections. The Boilermakers are currently the highest seeded Big Ten team, while the Buckeyes and Michigan State are next as two seeds. Michigan is the only other Big Ten squad included in Lunardi’s projections, and they are an eight-seed and would see themselves playing Butler in the first round.

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