Men's Basketball

Ohio State is 9-0 in the Big Ten — How Did They Get There?

Keita Bates-Diop Ohio State Basketball Buckeyes


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.”


10 Responses

  1. As in most if not all team sport games, defense is critical to achieving a victory. It is an outstanding part of this team’s effort. Long may it continue throughout the season. If a team has the talent to defend, and sees the value of that aspect of the game the offense will come through easier situations (steals, breakaways, open shots, etc.) Also, gotta say, can’t believe I’m seeing foul shots go in. For the last few years, 50% foul shooting seemed to be the norm. Very gratifying to see this aspect of the game not being shortchanged. Following college basketball for a long time, and I may be wrong, but I do not recall a team that was so little thought of at the beginning of a season do what this team has already accomplished. May they be able to reach their team goals and objectives. All the members of this Buckeye team have gained the respect of the league, and wishing them all the best as they go forth from here. Go Bucks!!

  2. Pardner, where I come from that’s called braggin. Even if your name is Nostradamus.
    PS I have a bookie I’d like to make some money back from. What’ s osu’s final big ten record and how many games do they win in the ncaa?
    And a big hat tip and thanks to you.
    Oh, one other thing, does osu take a step back next year, NOT A DRAMUS!

  3. Gritty win – parts of it were hard to watch. Some of the fouls called on the Bucks were weak. A couple of times, Tate was more or less standing next to someone and got called for a foul. I kept rewinding, trying to see the fouls but…
    I think Williams needs to look for his shot more. He’s a good shooter and maybe he just wasn’t feeling it last night but he helps spread the floor when he’s hitting 3s.
    Let’s go, beat Penn State!

  4. I really do believe that the way they lost to Butler was the switch point. It wasn’t losing to Butler but HOW they lost to Butler. 5 minutes to go and they’re up by 16 points and firing on all cylinders. THEN? Pop! It was like they completely lost interest. Energy left, effort just vanished in crunch time. They got pulled under by a team they could have and, should have beaten going away. That’s what happens when a team takes their foot off of the accelerator. That game taught them that games are 40 minutes long, not 35. If they want to be better they had to learn quickly how to finish.

    I’m not a huge basketball guy but you don’t have to be if you watch the games. Teamwork, tenacity, effort. It’s easy to spot guys who have bought into a program. This team seems to have learned that cruise control during games takes away the elements that make bad teams good and good teams great. It all starts with the man in charge. Thad Matta had tons of really good players, but over his last few years that’s all they represented good players playing outside of the team. Chris Holtmann see’s players struggling and it doesn’t matter what the players name is. He’ll pull the player out and sit him for whatever amount of time it takes to get that player back on the same page as everyone else. That doesn’t happen unless guys buy in. It also doesn’t happen without calm and experienced leadership on the floor. Jae’sean Tate, Andrew Dakich, Keita Bates-Diop are good players. Maybe even very good players. But they are GREAT team players and leaders.

    Well done Coach Holtmann. This team could have played this season the way they were projected out of Indianapolis. Instead they bought into the program.

  5. OSU is 9-0 and I don’t want to curse them, but they do have a chance to easily jump to 12-0. Not sure about Purdue…THERE! Holtmann deserves coach of the year award. Matta did not leave the shelf empty and this team is now very well coached and focuses on the fundamentals. Holtmann repeatedly insists that the players have bought into his philosophy. While this team will improve, they now move from hunter to hunted as they will no longer sneak up on anyone and a win against OSU is now a big deal as teams collect blue chips for The Dance. Nice win for OSU, NE is a tough team and OSU had no rest playing at NW, then MN in NYC, then in two days against a stingy NE team, all in five days! Go OSU!

  6. Three big differences I’ve seen is they play really good defense now. There is a lot of effort. They rebound SO MUCH better now. I cannot stress this enough. I cannot tell you how many things I have thrown at my TV for the lack of rebounding over the years. They are a much better free throw team. This is another maddening area of their game that frustrated me so badly. Free throws are easy uncontested shots. I can shoot over 80% at the charity stripe and I’m pushing fifty.

  7. Very impressed with what the Buckeyes have been able to accomplish so far this season.
    Tony, I’d like to see a where-are-they-now article, maybe towards the end of the regular season, on all the players who transferred out the past couple years. It’d be interesting to see how things turned out for some of them. We’re they in better situations? Are they as valuable to their new teams as they (or their parents) thought they should’ve been with our Buckeyes? That kind of thing…

    1. Good idea. I would like to see the same thing. Most of those guys had no idea of how much they needed to improve to play more. Jaquan Lyle really killed us with his bad attitude and his lack of speed and poor dribbling with his head down. He could really shoot when he was on but that was all he could do.
      Thad hinted at his frustration with players who were not as good as they thought they were when he said he was going to be a track coach in his next life. His explanation: I could just show them the stopwatch!
      The important thing is we kept the good players with the good attitudes. I have loved JaeJean Tate since his first few games as a freshman . . . and he has gotten better every year.

  8. Not to brag but I saw this coming

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