Final Four weekend is upon us, and with it comes the end of the college basketball season. So, earlier this week, we teamed up with our friends at SB Nation Reacts to send out a survey looking at the final games of the men’s and women’s tournaments this weekend and Ohio State fans’ thoughts on some big questions heading into 2022-23.
We started off by asking how important you thought it was for Big Ten Freshman of the Year Malaki Branham to come back for another year in Columbus when it comes to OSU’s potential success next season.
Despite the fact that Chris Holtmann has the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the country coming to town in a few months, more than 3⁄4 of our Buckeye Nation respondents think that it is “extremely important”.
Now, here’s the thing, Branham will undoubtedly declare for the NBA Draft, (Spoiler Alert: after this article was written, but before it was published, he declared for the draft) and he absolutely should. But, because of the way that the process works for college basketball, he can go through the entire process — including signing with an agent — but then decide to return to school a week or two before the actual draft itself.
So, while I would expect the dynamic guard to make himself available to go through that process, we likely won’t truly know if he is one-and-done until May or even June.
Of course, unless he has an unquenchable thirst to either stay or go, that is obviously the right thing for Branham to do. However, it does have some not-insignificant ramifications for the Buckeyes and their head coach.
Thanks to the extra COVID year, Holtmann has an abnormally large number of available scholarships for next season, meaning that even though he is down two assistant coaches, the program is going to be hitting the transfer portal pretty hard.
The problem is that not knowing if your second-best player is coming back or not can impact what players are interested in transferring in. It’s obviously not necessary for everyone to know what Branham is going to do before they make their decision on Ohio State, but there very well might be a certain level of athlete that would view Malaki as competition for playing time and/or shots.
So, while there’s really no easy way to work around this situation, it very well could substantially impact the team that Holtmann goes to battle with come fall; and, given the feelings from some in the fandom over his standing in the program, that could spell trouble for the head coach.
More than half of the people who answered the survey said that they need the Buckeyes to at least make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in order to get on board with Holtmann as the head coach. He has been to the NCAA Tournament in all four seasons that he has been in Columbus in which there was an NCAA Tournament (he would have been five-for-five had COVID not been a thing), but he has yet to win two games in a single tourney.
Given the always sky-high expectations from Buckeye fans, despite his success in the past five years, Holtmann has worn out his welcome with some, so season six will be very important for reasons both on and off the court.
The Women’s Final Four starts tonight and the national SBN Reacts audiences overwhelmingly picked South Carolina (84%) to beat Louisville (16%) in their national semifinal matchup, while on the other side of the bracket they have Stanford (70%) moving on past UConn (30%).
But here’s where it gets interesting. Despite the Cardinal being the overwhelming favorite to beat UConn, the Huskies shed only 1% when it comes to winning the national title, making them the second-most likely champ behind the Gamecocks, according to SBN Reacts respondents. So, basically, every UConn fan picked them to beat Stanford and then to beat South Carolina, while a substantial number of people picked Stanford to advance to the finals, but lose to Dawn Staley’s squad in the finals.
Homers, gotta love ‘em.
Similarly, on the men’s side, both of the semifinals were blowouts as 71% of responses picked Duke over archrival UNC, while 3⁄4 of folks picked Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks to beat Jay Wright and Villanova.
However, unlike in the women’s part of the survey, those lopsided semifinal wins led to a fairly close championship selection for the men. Forty percent of respondents picked Coach K to end his career cutting down the nets, while 35% picked KU to play spoiler to the fairy book ending.
For what it’s worth, 14% of people picked the Tar Heels to win it all while 11% went with ‘Nova.