The Ohio State men’s basketball team has been sitting and waiting to find out their future since their loss to Penn State on March2.
On Sunday, they finally learned where their next step would be, and it has taken them to Boise, Idaho on Thursday for a matchup against the 12-seed South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
It’s been a heck of a wait, but Buckeye head coach is happy to finally have a name to focus on.
“Great to finally have an opponent to prepare for,” he said this week. “I think our guys have a great appreciation for and understanding of how well you need to play in this thing. You’re playing a very good opponent in South Dakota State, who I believe has an NBA player on their roster and has had an outstanding year. We’ll get to digging in and preparing for them. Let the sleepless nights begin.”
Not knowing who they’d be playing doesn’t mean they weren’t preparing for possibilities. Holtmann expected the Buckeyes to end up as a 5-seed or 6-seed, so his staff went about doing their own Bracketology.
“All of the video is set up to go,” he said. “We looked at all of the 12 or 11-seeds as we were going to fall in that area. It’s clipped up. Offensive clips. Defensive clips. Out-of-bounds clips. Personnel clips. All of that is ready to go. We talked about trying to do some advanced scouting, but we would have been spinning our wheels. Our staff is already in the bunker.”
As the Buckeyes head out west, those who have watched them down the stretch wonder just how far they can go in this tournament. They are favored by 7.5 points against South Dakota State, but a matchup in the next round against Gonzaga is daunting. The Buckeyes and the Zags met early in the season, and Gonzaga came away with a 27-point win back in November.
Ohio State became a different team after that stretch of games early in the season. They have notched wins over Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan in impressive fashion this season. Down the stretch, however, the Buckeyes lost to Penn State three times and the Wolverines once.
Given the finish, questioning the potential of this team isn’t out of bounds. Holtmann thinks the Buckeyes could be playing better, but also believes they may be getting a bum rap.
“I think we have played well in spots here of late and we’ve struggled at times as well,” he said. “I literally chuckled, I read somewhere today that we haven’t had a quality win in a month, and I said, ‘The person who said that clearly has not coached or played in the Big Ten, and certainly not at Indiana on Senior Night.’
“Those are hard things to get. Now did we play perfectly? No. Do we need to get better? Absolutely. But that’s a hard thing to do on senior night, and I don’t want to take that away from our guys and our program in any way. That’s a hard thing to do, winning on the road period, but certainly a middle-of-the-road team in your league.”
It is not difficult to find stories right now about the Jackrabbits being a popular upset pick on Thursday. Holtmann knows it won’t be easy, and it’s not going to get any better the deeper you get. The only thing they can do is prepare, and that’s all they’re concerned about right now.
“Our job right now is to try to prepare us to play as well as we can play on Thursday,” he said. “We know we’re playing a really good opponent. You’re playing really good teams from here on out. Maybe the 1-16s has always been a mismatch and in some ways the 2-15s, but really outside of that, you look at it and it’s a lot of really even games and it comes down to the last minute or two in all of them. We’re going to need to play better than what we’ve played in stretches, but I also think we’ve done some good things as well.”