For the last couple years, it felt like I was constantly defending Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann when people were trying to say the Buckeyes needed to move on and bring someone else in to coach the team. To those people that I laughed at, or asked them to name a realistic candidate to bring in as the successor to Holtmann, I am sorry.
It has become obvious that the current Ohio State men’s basketball coach isn’t the man for the job. This isn’t anything against Holtmann. While I’ve never actually met Holtmann, he seems like a great guy. It’s obvious that he cares about his players and Ohio State. Unfortunately, that isn’t winning the Buckeyes any games, which in the end is the only thing that matters.
It’s not like Holtmann and his staff aren’t trying. This year they recruited Brice Sensabaugh and Bruce Thornton, who were two highly-touted recruits. Along with those two, veterans Isaac Likekele, Sean McNeil, and Tanner Holden came to Columbus via the transfer portal. Even with all those pieces, something just isn’t clicking for Ohio State.
After replacing Thad Matta, it didn’t take long for the Ohio State community to fall in love with Holtmann, as the Buckeyes went 25-9 and make it to the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament before losing to Gonzaga. Not only did Holtmann lead Ohio State to the NCAA Tournament, he got a late start in his first year on the job since he wasn’t hired until June, a couple months after the normal college basketball coaching carousel ends.
Imagine what Holtmann could do with a full year on the job!
Unfortunately since then, Ohio State hasn’t won more than 21 games in a season in the four full years since. With 10 regular season games left after Tuesday night’s loss at Illinois dropped their season record to 11-9, it doesn’t look likely that the Buckeyes will even hit 20 wins this year, unless they turn things around in a hurry, and find a way to make a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament.
Even though the names on the roster change, it feels like seasons under Holtmann have become predictable at this point. Ohio State will post a pretty good non-conference record, which includes a win or two over teams that they probably shouldn’t have beaten, which inflates excitement about the team heading into Big Ten play. Then at some point in the middle of the conference schedule, the bottom falls out for the Buckeyes.
Aside from his first year at the school, there is a stretch of games after the calendar turns where the Buckeyes lose four straight, or five of six games, forcing the team to take a hard look at themselves. Even two seasons ago, Ohio State lost their final four games of the regular season, but their seeding for the NCAA Tournament was propped up because the Buckeyes made it to the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game, losing to Illinois in overtime.
While Ohio State has made it to the NCAA Tournament in every season under Holtmann, aside from the 2019-20 season when COVID-19 cancelled the big dance, things there have become predictable. The Buckeyes have been able to reach the round of 32 on three occasions in their four NCAA Tournament appearances under Holtmann, but then they end up getting bounced before the Sweet Sixteen.
Then there is the 2021 NCAA Tournament, when Ohio State was a two-seed and wound up getting upset by Oral Roberts in the first round. That loss stings the most out of any game the Buckeyes have dropped under Holtmann.
I know it’s not all Holtmann’s fault, since college athletics are changing in every sport. The transfer portal and NIL have drastically changed how teams recruit and allocate their resources. It’s even tougher in college basketball since not only can players leave for the NBA after one season, now you are seeing more and more top talents not even step foot in college because they are deciding it is a better decision to play in the NBA’s G-League before entering the draft.
That just means coaches have to change and evolve more now than ever. I’m not getting the feeling this is happening with the Ohio State men’s basketball team. At this point it feels like every season has turned into the same for the Buckeyes, all that is different is the roster and results are jumbled just a little bit each year. Pretty much when the schedule is released these days you can expect about 20 wins for Ohio State and probably an early exit in the NCAA Tournament.
Even though Buckeye football is still king in Columbus, I remember the days when it wasn’t crazy to expect the men’s basketball team to have a shot at making the Final Four.
If there was ever a time for urgency from Ohio State, it has to be now. The Big Ten is already a meat grinder of a conference, and it’s only going to get tougher when UCLA and USC are added. The Buckeyes have to find a way to make some huge splashes. Bringing Malaki Branham and Brice Sensabaugh to Columbus has been great, but Ohio State needs even bigger fish if they ever want to be a serious contender for a national championship.
I have just lost all confidence that a run like that is possible under Chris Holtmann.