Coaching is an interesting profession; it’s not even a “what have you done for me lately” type of gig. Instead it is very much a “what are you doing for me now” type of job. But in my opinion, for Ohio State men’s basketball, they have their guy for now and for the future. I know that there are people that will disagree, but I think that the evidence is overwhelming that Chris Holtmann is the guy to lead this program for years to come.
Holtmann recently earned his 100th win as the Buckeyes’ head man last Thursday as his squad defeated Minnesota 75-64 on the road. In honor of that milestone, I’m going to back up what I said above with some facts.
Holtmann’s track record really does speak for itself; and it matters. At Ohio State, he is 100-49 and was the third fastest coach in OSU history to hit 100 wins (behind only legendary coaches Thad Matta and Fred Taylor) and the seventh coach to do it program history. Before the Buckeyes, he was the head coach at Gardner-Webb and Butler for three seasons each.
At Gardner-Webb, he went 44-54, however — for some context — in the season before Holtmann showed up, Gardner-Webb had gone 8-21 overall and 5-13 in conference. Holtmann turned that into 11 wins his first season, 12 in his second, and 21 in his third. In the last 20 seasons, Gardner-Webb has had three 20-win seasons and Holtmann accomplished that feat in just three years. His final season there, he was named the Big South and NABC District Three Coach of the Year.
He then moved to Butler as an assistant coach for one season under Brandon Miller and was named the interim coach when Miller took a medical leave of absence. During that stint, Holtmann led the Bulldogs to a 10-4 start and had the interim tagged removed halfway through the season. At Butler, he went 70-31 overall and 34-20 in conference and was selected as the Big East Coach of the Year in 2017.
In his first season in Columbus in 2017-18, the highest that the Buckeyes were predicted to finish in the preseason polls was 11th, however, they went 15-3 in conference and finished tied for second in the league. In his first year as a Power 5 head coach, Holtmann was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year, winning the award in back-to-back seasons in two different conferences.
Awesome Coaching from OSU's Chris Holtmann— Eric Shapiro (@eric_shap) January 30, 2022
After a TO, OSU drew up a hammer set that generated a wide open 3. Liddell missed, but Holtmann remembered how confused Gillis was guarding it
So, after another TO under 1 min, he dialed up another hammer set, producing an open 3 again pic.twitter.com/G6gbCvMU33
Despite his successes, the major bone of contention for many Ohio State fans has been Holtmann’s track record in the Big Dance. I personally don’t believe that this is an actual issue for now and it doesn’t bother me as much as others. Obviously I would have loved to have seen them make deeper runs in the tournament, but I accept that I am in the minority in terms of how big of a deal I think it is, given the relatively small sample size.
Holtmann has been at Ohio State for four complete seasons and his teams have made the NCAA tournament in every year possible — there was no tournament in 2020 due to the Coivd-19 pandemic. That right there is at least something to take into consideration, since the Buckeyes missed the tournament the final two seasons under Matta, and didn’t even make the NIT in 2017-18, right before Holtmann arrived.
In 2018, the Buckeyes were a five-seed and took on a tough No. 12 in South Dakota State, led by Mike Daum and David Jenkins Jr. Ohio State came away with a 81-73 win in that one before taking on the four seed Gonzaga — a team that was 32-4 and put five players in the NBA. The Buckeyes lost that matchup by six after starting the game by giving up the first 17 points.
The next season, OSU struggled in a loaded B1G conference and entered the tourney as an 11-seed. However, as an 11 seed, they defeated a talented six-seed in Iowa State, who at the time was led by Tyrese Haliburton, Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker — three NBA guys. The Bucks then they lost a tough game to No. 3 Houston.
In the 2019-20 season, the whole thing obviously got canceled, but the Buckeyes would have been a three or a four seed and I believe that this Holtmann’s team that was most ready for the rigors of the tournament.
Then there is last season; and even with my confidence in Holtmann, I understand the frustration with this one. But that was just one game, and Oral Roberts went on to win another game over Florida and took Arkansas to the final minute. They were clearly an unusually talented 15-seed. But again, I get it. You have to win that game.
In regards to having not yet made the second weekend of the tournament, Matta didn’t reach the Sweet 16 until his sixth season in college hoops. Advancing out of the first weekend isn't easy and I think fans should be a bit more patient with Holtmann as he is entering only his fourth actual NCAA tournament as the Buckeyes’ head coach. If they still haven’t reached the second weekend in a few years’ time, I will be with you.
Holtmann has also developed a fantastic culture within the program. Guys are allowed to be themselves; they can have signature finger-gun celebrations and dance after wins. This is not a small thing when it comes to building the foundation of a successful program.
When guys are loose and allowed to be themselves, they are more free to focus on playing basketball. These 18-22 year olds have a lot to deal with and Holtmann is a great coach in helping them focus on what’s important. Matta also had a great culture and Holtmann has done a good job of continuing what was already in place when he got to Columbus, but adding his own approach, traditions, and priorities as well.
Player development is another area in which Holtmann has proven himself thus far. In just one year under Holtmann’s tutelage, Keita Bates-Diop went from averaging 9.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game to 19.8 and 8.7 respectively. That huge leap forward also earned him the 2020 Big Ten Player of the Year honors as well. Jae’Sean Tate and Duane Washington were solid college players, but many doubted that their abilities would translate to the next level, but both are now legitimate NBA contributors thanks to their hard work and Holtmann’s coaching.
Andre Wesson and Kyle Young went from primarily defense-only guys to legit offensive producers. Kaleb Wesson developed into a weapon at all three levels of the game. E.J. Liddell has evolved into being a legit Big Ten PoY candidate and possible first round pick in the NBA Draft. Zed Key was a three-star recruit who now looks like he could be the next star big man after Liddell leaves.
In conclusion, I am not saying Chris Holtmann is the next Coach K, but when Thad Matta moved on from Ohio State, the Buckeyes could have absolutely been in a bad place, but they landed an excellent coach in Chris Holtmann. Just give him a second.