There’s something happening in the Ohio State basketball program, and it’s very difficult to find words to appropriately describe it. What’s easier is to describe what isn’t happening at Ohio State. What isn’t happening is a scandal like we’re seeing at Arizona, Louisville, UCLA, and well, basically every major Adidas school in the country. Ohio State is, by all accounts, as clean as any basketball program can be in 2018.
More importantly, what isn’t happening at Ohio State is what had been happening at Ohio State since Aaron Craft departed in 2013. Without going into too much painstaking detail about the struggles of the end of the Thad Matta era, it’s fair to say that when the 2010 class was gone, Matta was already far beyond a place where he could successfully do everything that is required of a coach in today’s college basketball environment, due to things completely out of his control (like a botched back surgery).
He didn’t have his fastball anymore, and it showed, as the program took a step back every year since 2012, dropping more and more games, while becoming progressively less relevant in the national conversation.
Ohio State basketball was stale. Great players like D’Angelo Russell kept it afloat slightly beyond the expiration date, but everyone knew that there were problems in the program that really couldn’t be fixed without a reset. The start of that reset came with the transfer of the entire 2015 class, a class that considered only talent and ignored some pretty obvious red flags. The reset was complete when Ohio State made the choice to let Matta go, and bring in former Butler coach Chris Holtmann.
To say that hiring Holtmann was a huge, program changing decision would be an understatement. While he came to Ohio State with plenty of high expectations on him for the future, the immediate turnaround last year was astounding to just about everyone. We knew Holtmann was going to get things going. We didn’t know it was going to happen that quickly.
That first season also gives us an idea as to what we can expect out of Holtmann in the future. That team, despite lacking depth and generally not possessing the ideal roster construction, was able to knock off top teams with smart game plans, quick adjustments, and above all else, awesome defense. Ohio State played with the kind of energy that you only see from a team that has fully bought into what a coaching staff is preaching.
That full buy-in helps off of the court too. Players talk to each other about a program, good or bad. They talk about their coaches, and Chris Holtmann seems to have made a pretty great first impression on Ohio State’s players. That shows when you see current players showing recruits around campus when they take visits, or celebrating on Twitter when they announce that they’ll be headed to Columbus.
That kind of culture — while it might seem silly and trivial — is important. You could tell that last year’s team had incredible chemistry. You could tell that the players hung out outside of basketball, and were much closer than they had been in recent years. That’s all part of the job of a new coach. You have to develop a culture, and Chris Holtmann has done that flawlessly thus far.
Holtmann’s quick success building that culture, paired with some extremely impressive recruiting, make this much easier to say than it was a couple years ago. Ohio State can be a national power. Hell, if the early returns are to be believed, Ohio State will be a national power.
Great recruiting, great people on staff, and a fanbase that desperately craves a great team to root for. That’s the recipe. Ohio State has all the ingredients, and now it’s time to see if Chris Holtmann is ready to take the next step from underrated rising star to coaching powerhouse, while Ohio State takes the step from Big Ten title contender to national title contender.