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Chris Holtmann may think winning is hard, but Ohio State basketball is making it look easy

The first-year Ohio State coach has turned the program around a lot sooner than many were expecting.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“We have an even bigger target on our back. In addition to being Ohio State and defying expectations now w’re going to get every team’s best punch. We have to stay ready for that every possession, not just every game.”

Ohio State guard Kam Williams via Bill Bender, The Sporting News

A return to success wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly for Ohio State basketball. After the Buckeyes not only had to navigate a coaching change in June, they also had to deal with a number of transfers, which left them with a roster with very little depth and experience.

The first step to the turnaround happened in early June, when the Buckeyes were able to lure Butler head coach Chris Holtmann to Columbus. Along with Holtmann and his coaching staff, Ohio State was able to bring in Michigan graduate transfer Andrew Dakich, who has provided a spark off the bench for the Buckeyes.

It would have been easy for Ohio State to let the season spiral out of control after losing three of four games in late November, but the Buckeyes responded with wins over Wisconsin and Michigan to open up Big Ten play. Since the loss to Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Ohio State has only lost two games.

The early success under Holtmann has restored some of the pride in Ohio State basketball. Not only is attendance starting to come back after a few years of mediocre play, but there is just an overall excitement surrounding the program. Now with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the horizon next month, even brighter days after coming for Buckeye basketball.

“We have beat the living crap out of him every day in practice. We’ve got a manager when we do shooting drills and it’s a workout now. He takes the pad and wears him out. I’m usually the passer and I’m making sure Kaleb understands, ‘Listen, you’re posting to score. Use your frame to get deep post position.’”

Ohio State men’s basketball coach on Kaleb Wesson via Patrick Murphy, Bucknuts

Usually freshmen tend to wear down as their first season of college basketball rolls on, but Kaleb Wesson looks like he is getting stronger. Not only has Wesson been perfect from the field over the last two games, hitting all 11 of his shot attempts, but Wesson has only missed four of the 25 field goals he has attempted over the last four games. The uptick in play has a lot to do with Chris Holtmann stressing the importance of Wesson using his body to create better post position on offense.

The Buckeyes have been able to exploit the lack of size of some of their recent opponents, but that won’t be the case in the coming weeks. Next week the Buckeyes have to travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on a Purdue team with a couple of talented big men. Just over a week later the Buckeyes will again hit the road to take on Michigan and Moritz Wagner, who only allowed Wesson to hit one of his four field goal attempts back in their first meeting in December.

If Ohio State is going to make a deep run in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, the Buckeyes are going to need to continue to get production like this from Wesson. While Keita Bates-Diop is the focal point of the Ohio State offense, increased contributions from Wesson will take some of the pressure off of Bates-Diop. Holtmann and the Ohio State coach staff are readying Wesson for some of the physicality the freshman will see going forward, and if he continues to respond like he has been over the last two weeks, the Buckeyes will be a tough team to beat in March.

“We’re not going to go 32-2, you know? Let’s put that to bed right now. We’re going to lose some more matches this year just because of who we are. We’re different than we were last year. It’s not about what your record is when you get to the tournament. It’s, ‘Can you win three or four matches in a row, the last three or four matches of the season and become a national champion?’”

Ohio State men’s volleyball coach Pete Hanson via Soliyah Stevens-Ogaz, The Lantern

Expectations might have been a little too high after Ohio State won the last two men’s volleyball national championships. For many teams, a 5-2 start to the season may be pretty good, but for the Buckeyes, it isn’t good enough. After beating BYU in the last two national title matches, the Buckeyes fell to the Cougars in Columbus on Jan. 13.

Ohio State followed up the loss to BYU with a loss to UCLA a week later.

At least Ohio State is starting to turn things around, as they defeated No. 9 Penn State on Sunday. With a number of new starters, the team is still learning how to play together--which can help to explain the early season losses. The team learning to trust each other is something that takes time, so some early hiccups have to be expected.

At least by the time the conference tournament and NCAA Tournament are ready to be contested, Ohio State should be in a lot better form. With the talent they have on the floor and on the the coaching staff, combined with their postseason experience of the last few years, the Buckeyes will be one of the toughest outs in the country in late April and early May.