There was a stretch late in November when the Buckeyes lost three of four games. Each loss was against a quality team, but that didn’t ease the pain, especially when two of those losses should have been wins.
Ohio State was frustrated, but undaunted.
When the Buckeye football team went to Indianapolis to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, the men’s basketball team was in Madison, Wisconsin, giving the Badgers their worst home loss in over a decade.
That was the first of nine Big Ten wins in nine attempts this season for Ohio State, and it is the best conference start for the Buckeyes since they opened 11-0 in B1G play in 2010-2011. Ohio State won the Big Ten title and Big Ten Tournament that year before losing to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, by the way.
But that was then and this is now, and this right here is pretty damn impressive.
The Buckeyes are all by themselves at the top of the Big Ten standings.
So how did they do it?
By buying in to what Chris Holtmann is teaching.
“I don’t compare and contrast one coach to another, because Thad Matta is a great guy, and the success he had in the Big Ten here is unbelievable,” said Nebraska head coach Tim Miles. “This is what I do notice about being a new coach, which I have been five times, Chris has done a great job with his staff. I admire what they do. The buy in is there. They have bought in to what they do.
“They are going to run their stuff this way, they are going to cut hard, they are going to defend and block out. There is no individual agenda, and the body language is really good. Chris and his staff coming into a situation late, and getting these guys. You can listen to the interviews, and the way they talk about the coaches and where they’re going. You can see how fired up they were. I think that is a very good barometer for success.”
Miles’ mention of body language won’t be lost on Buckeye fans who have thrown up their hands on many occasions lamenting the slumped shoulders or bowed heads when times got tough over the last few years.
There is no such frustration this season, and the results are not a coincidence. Holtmann asks for a lot from each of his players, but he also doesn’t ask more than they are capable of giving.
And no matter what he asks, he has players willing to do anything they can for the team.
“No one has an ego on the team,” said Keita Bates-Diop, who is plenty good enough to have an ego. “We all know our roles, we all accept our roles, and we all trust each other in our roles.”
Holtmann and his coaching staff have defined the roles for their players, but if the players didn’t buy in long ago, they wouldn’t be able to produce like they are right now. It’s a credit to everyone involved.
“It’s just the belief in each other, and the connectedness that the team has this year,” Tate said. “I think Coach prepares us well in the way we practice. The situations we’re put in during practice helped us in this test tonight. That is the biggest thing. I think this year we’re able to cross that line we’ve always set.”
But how did it happen so fast?
“It didn’t happen overnight, definitely,” Tate said. “I’ve never been on a team where so many people buy in. There’s no hidden agendas in that locker room. None. You don’t see that a lot. You don’t see that on many teams at all, so I think that’s been a key. Everybody’s buying in. Everybody’s playing with heart and effort. We’re not afraid to call each other out on it, but we haven’t even had to call each other out because at the end of the day we know that we trust each other.”
When you start 9-0 in conference play, you do it by remaining focused on each task at hand. There is no looking ahead. Unfortunately, there also isn’t much looking back. What the Buckeyes have accomplished in Chris Holtmann’s first 22 games is incredible, which is why Holtmann has to remind himself to enjoy it.
“I don’t want to take this for granted,” he said after Monday night’s game. “I’ve never been a part of anything like this, and I don’t know if I ever will again. You don’t just start 9-0 in conference play, and I don’t want to take that for granted. It’s been an amazing run, and hopefully we continue it.”