“That’s what we came here for. We’ve had a couple of down years, but this is the start that we wanted to get to...This is just the start of it.”
This season was not supposed to be a hot one for Ohio State basketball. It was supposed to be a long, hard road of rebuilding; of transitioning to a new coach, and of getting by with a decimated roster. However, all signs are currently pointing to something else altogether. And while it is certainly too early in conference play to say anything definitive, the fact remains that the Buckeyes are 4-0 in Big Ten play, tied atop the conference standings with Purdue, and just defeated the top-ranked team in the nation.
There is little doubt that the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan State on Sunday could have been a fluke. After all, the game was played in Columbus in an arena that was at 90 percent capacity for the first time in a long time. Michigan State may have been overconfident after a 30-point win over Maryland. However, the Buckeyes dominated the No. 1 Spartans for nearly the entire game as they handed Tom Izzo’s squad just their second loss of the season. It was a signature win for Chris Holtmann, akin to Thad Matta’s unexpected victory over No. 1 Illinois in 2005 during the Buckeyes’ last game of the season.
Holtmann has shown through 17 games this season that he has a solid plan for his team. The Buckeyes have been able to make adjustments that didn’t seem possible for the past couple of seasons. They have put together a good product on the court that inevitably raises the bar moving forward into conference play.
Still, the plan for this season should not change. It is still a building year for Holtmann, and while his team has certainly performed better than expected, those expectations should not shift. Dreams of a Big Ten Title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament should remain distant. There is a lot of basketball yet to be played, and teams that have started off slow in conference play this season should not be counted out.
“The historic beauty of the league has been its perennial grind: the tough road games, the dangerous teams at the bottom of the pack and the elite coaching. It lacks that edge this season.”
As exciting as Ohio State’s win yesterday over Michigan State was, it may highlight a larger, systemic problem in the Big Ten conference.
The teams this season have not been as strong across the board as they have been in previous years. Last year, also considered a down year for the conference, seven teams made the NCAA Tournament (three went on to the Sweet 16). This season, just four Big Ten teams are projected to make the Big Dance, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
Ohio State, obviously, has been a pleasant surprise for the conference. Last week, Lunardi had them projected as a bubble team, and a win over Michigan State would certainly bolster their tournament resume. Similarly, Indiana, under first-year coach Archie Miller, has brought some strong performances with a likewise short roster this year. Along with Michigan State, Purdue was expected to carry the Big Ten’s reputation heading into this season as one of the conference’s two best teams. After dropping two straight games (including one to Western Kentucky), the Boilermakers appear to be back on track, and are riding an 11-game win streak. Michigan could also be a promising team for the conference.
However, that’s about where it stops. Injuries have certainly been an issue for many teams, preventing them from reaching their full potential. Northwestern hasn’t had nearly as strong of a showing as it did last season, when the Wildcats earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, as both Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh have dealt with injury issues. Maryland’s Justin Jackson is out for the rest of the season with a torn labrum, and Wisconsin’s Kobe King is similarly out with a knee injury. Minnesota has dealt with a number of injuries as well, but is also working through the indefinite suspension of Reggie Lynch. Personnel issues aside, this could mark one of the worst seasons for the conference as a whole in years.
The Ohio State wrestling team has been absolutely dominating its competition so far this season, moving to a perfect 8-0 on the year, with its latest win coming against No. 17 Rutgers in Piscataway. The second-ranked Buckeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights by a 29-11 margin Sunday. Ohio State won seven of 10 matches on the day, but Rutgers managed some upsets, including 14th-ranked Eleazar DeLuca overcoming fifth-ranked Ke-Shawn Hayes at the 149-pound class.
Overall, the Buckeyes have outscored their dual-match competition 283-50 in eight matches this season. Five Ohio State wrestlers remain undefeated on the year, including junior Myles Martin (18-0), sophomore Luke Pletcher (18-0), redshirt sophomore Kollin Moore (14-0), junior Joey McKenna (6-0) and senior Kyle Snyder (4-0). Both Moore and Snyder are the top-ranked wrestlers nationally in their respective weight classes.
This match was just Snyder’s fourth of the season, as he has taken leave on several occasions to compete in international events. He should, however, be with the Buckeyes for much of the remainder of the season.
Bo Jordan opened up the scoring for the Buckeyes, earning a win at the 174-pound class. Next up, at 184-pounds, Martin pinned his opponent in just 37 seconds, earning a bonus point for Ohio State. Moore took the 197-pound class with an 18-7 major decision before Snyder’s much-anticipated return, which he won in under two minutes. Pletcher (133-pounds), McKenna (141-pounds) and Micah Jordan (157-pounds) also contributed to Ohio State’s win.
Next up, the Buckeyes head home to take on No. 14 Minnesota. They have a long way to go before the Big Ten Tournament in March in East Lansing. Ohio State won the tournament last year, but, per the usual, the conference is stacked, and the Buckeyes have a long road ahead to winning another title. Chief among their remaining competition is Iowa (No. 7), Penn State (No. 1) and Michigan (No. 8).