Ohio State men’s basketball’s recent losing streak sucked for reasons beyond the obvious — the actual, you know, losing. In the wake of any losing streak, there’s always the public overreaction backlash of blindly calling for coaching changes (the “Anyone has to be able to do better than this!” crowd) or the brash declarations of how “[insert player’s name] should never set foot on the court again!”
Losing feels bad, and many of us don’t respond well to it, especially in the moment.
But the five straight losses by Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes have also opened my eyes to new (and also distasteful) things. I’m not going to publicly shame anyone in this space, but there is a segment of those who cover Ohio State basketball who have expressed that people being upset by multiple losses in a row (or even one or two bad ones) somehow constitutes a failure on some fans’ parts to differentiate between a football season and a basketball season.
This is not likely an issue for the vast majority of OSU hoops fans. I know that not everyone is as well-versed in basketball as football, but I believe that most basketball fans know that a few losses are not the end of the season (or, indeed the very fabric of existence itself) as they can be in football. Even one loss can derail a football season some years, but I think most sports fans are savvy enough to know — even if they’re new to basketball — that a couple of losses don’t take your team out of the postseason when it comes to most other sports with longer seasons.
Yet this is a bit of a condescending approach I’ve seen some writers from various outlets take when interacting online to the inevitable fan overreaction to a team slump.
Telling people they don’t understand the sport is an arrogant approach that will alienate followers quickly. And sure, it may be true of some people, but everyone thinks they are not that person, just like everyone thinks they have a good sense of humor and drive better than everyone else on the road. None of those things can possibly be true of everyone. We all have experienced people driving badly and people who aren’t funny, just as we’ve also all come across fans that lack some basic understanding of the reality of the sport.
It’s not likely to win anyone hearts and minds to belittle people griping about those losses. They’re deep in their feelings, after all. But beyond that, I think there is a broad cross-section of the fan base that does understand the sport just fine and believes that losing five straight simply isn’t good enough.
This brings me to the next thing that has bothered me recently about OSU hoops coverage.
When not accusing fans of treating basketball as if it’s football, some of those covering the games talk down to fans by telling them they simply don’t understand that Ohio State isn’t on the same level in basketball as the football program — that, “this is just who they are.”
It’s not that it isn’t a true statement. Objectively speaking, Ohio State basketball and football are not on the same level. That’s not really the point, to me. Many of us already know that on an intellectual level, but we still feel that OSU basketball can and should be among the nation’s elite programs. With Ohio State’s resources, there’s no reason it can’t happen.
Just because it has one national championship, has been runner-up only four times, and has been to just 11 Final Fours (and none since 2012) in its history, doesn’t mean Ohio State shouldn’t aspire to join the more successful programs at the top of the sport.
Changing tiers is difficult, but not impossible, especially with Ohio State’s money and ambition. The program should have elite everything — facilities, coaching, and recruiting. It has rarely had all three at the same time. With the university’s reach through its extensive alumni base, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be an NIL leader as well. The university and the athletic department just have to want to put in the effort to make that happen.
When Ohio State fell to Purdue, I saw a few people in my timeline complaining about Holtmann and calling for him to be fired. I didn’t particularly agree with every decision he made in that game, but overall the game plan was sound and (mostly) well executed. It nearly resulted in an upset win and should have. Holtmann missed no free throws and committed no turnovers in that game.
Sometimes it is simply execution, especially in crucial situations, that can decide a game. The gripes were standard social media overreaction. In the cold light of the following morning, some of those tweets were likely regretted and some may have even been deleted.
However, the losses that followed provided more fodder for the #FireHoltmann crowd, and it became a bit more of a bandwagon taking off. When looking back to previous January swoons by his teams, it’s not an unjustifiable position to hold. And while I’m never of the opinion that “the next guy couldn’t be any worse,” I do always think that a person shouldn’t be replaced unless there’s either something irrevocably broken that can’t be fixed or there’s an excellent candidate ready to take over.
But there was nothing to indicate the former was the case, and the exploration for the latter basically doesn’t even start until something like a prolonged losing streak happens in the first place. I know I hadn’t reached the “fire Holtmann” boiling point yet, but I was starting to ask a lot of questions after the loss to Nebraska. A lot of questions.
Had Ohio State lost to Iowa, and possibly one or two more, then not only would I have started leaning much more heavily that way, but there would also be some justification for firing the head coach and installing an assistant as an interim while the job search took place.
This season is still salvageable. If the Iowa win showed us anything, it’s that the players don’t appear to have quit on Holtmann. This is a team with a lot of new pieces and some bright young players. It was always going to go through ups and downs, even if the five-game losing streak seems a lot lower of a “down” than many of us expected.
I grew up watching OSU football and basketball. Seeing guys like Kelvin Ransey, Herb Williams, Clark Kellogg, Jay Burson, and Dennis Hopson play was appointment viewing for me as a kid. Folks younger than me may have jumped on board during Jimmy Jackson’s time. Or Evan Turner’s. Or Greg Oden’s and Michael Conley’s. Whenever we jumped on board, we all want the team to be among the nation’s best and many of us think it can get to that level and (mostly) stay there.
And even if some of the statements coming from those who cover the team aren’t directed specifically at us personally, it still kind of paints us all in the same light as a fan base: as ingrates who know nothing and should be happy with what we’ve got.
It’s probably best to just let people feel their feelings and vent through the relative anonymity of social media, as tiring as it can be.