COLUMBUS — Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann and players CJ Jackson and Kaleb Wesson met with reporters on Friday to preview Saturday’s home game against No. 8 Michigan State. Holtmann talked about the challenge ahead of the Buckeyes and his players didn’t disagree. Here are the highlights of everything that was said. (Videos of both sessions are below as well.)
+ The Buckeyes are in the middle of their preparation for an elite team. Michigan State is playing as well as any team he’s seen in the Big Ten in his short time here.
+ They’re a veteran team that is well coached. They play hard and physical.
+ Michigan State is top five or top three and four of pretty much every category that is out there. They are elite offensively and defensively. They are efficient on both sides of the ball. That is a byproduct of great players, great coach, great system, and being a year older than they were last year.
+ Michigan State is great at sharing the ball because they have a great understanding of what they are trying to do offensively. They are really unselfish.
+ Holtmann thinks they’ll learn something in this game, but they’ll learn more over the next three or four weeks. You can never draw too many conclusions from one game, but they will be playing as good a team as there is in the country, so that will tell them a lot about this Ohio State team.
+ You’re always trying to evaluate what you’re doing poorly so that you can get better as a team. The turnover percentage has been a consistent issue. Rebounding can get exposed against a team like Michigan State. Those are the two biggest areas of concern for Saturday.
+ Holtmann is still learning about this team and learning what combinations work best. They are still trying to figure out their best lineup late in the game.
+ They are working on eliminating the extended stretches of poor play offensively and ineffective defense. Having said that, Holtmann doesn’t know that this is the kind of team that can steamroll somebody in the first half. More often, this will be a slow drip. “I think that’s the nature of this team.”
+ There will be scoring droughts that this team has to manage.
+ The Big Ten was better than it was credited with last year, but the Buckeyes probably benefited from some teams being in a transition. This program isn’t where it needs to be in order to have a W/L mark like it has over the last 12 months (26-6). Those numbers aren’t realistic this year with this team and the quality of the Big Ten. The non-conference schedule looked good on paper, but there were teams who probably didn’t perform as well as anticipated.
+ Maybe the mark of some of Tom Izzo’s genius is his consistency. “It is amazing how consistently they perform year in and year out, and we know how hard that is to do.” Their style is a little bit of a throwback maybe in today’s game.
+ Holtmann’s preference is to have a lineup that can play both big and physical, as well as skilled and quick.
+ In order to have a consistent program you have to recruit really well year after year after year. You have to be committed to playing your style so that your system matches you recruits. “That’s the only answer.”
+ Holtmann modeled his programs early on after many coaches, including Tom Izzo. He appreciated the competitive spirit of his teams and how coachable Izzo’s teams were. He coaches them hard and they embraces that aspect.
+ There are no glaring weaknesses with this Michigan State team. “I wish I could tell you, ‘They stink in this area.’ But they don’t.”
+ These kinds of games are a better test of leadership than games against lesser-known teams. The pressure is greater. There are more struggles throughout the game and more opportunities for confidence to wane.
+ Interior defense will be a big concern against Michigan State. OSU isn’t as big and long as they were last year and they’re not quite as physical. Losing Jae’Sean Tate hurts them in the physicality aspect. MSU likes to post up as much as any team in the country. That aspect and the pace at which MSU plays will be difficult to handle.
+ We’ll see how much more prepared Kyle Young is for a game like this than he was a year ago. “It’s going to be a great test for a lot of our new guys.”
CJ Jackson and Kaleb Wesson
+ Wesson is looking forward to the physicality of the game tomorrow and the focus will be in the paint. Jackson is excited for the atmosphere.
+ Wesson is second in the nation in fouls drawn and MSU’s Nick Ward is first. It’s always fun to play against somebody you know like Ward.
+ Wesson said talking to veterans last year helped him grow as a player in knowing what to expect from the physicality of the Big Ten. The biggest challenge for him this year is playing through adjustments to the referees.
+ Wesson’s earliest memories of Nick Ward were when they were “way young.” Fifth or sixth grade. They played at one of the churches. He was always told that Ward was the best big man in the city, then as they got older they always played against each other and grew closer.
+ Wesson said this is what it’s like looking at Nick Ward.
+ Jackson said the team has been working on defensive assignments and rebounding.
+ Jackson has been focused on turnovers and not putting himself in positions where a turnover is likely. He still needs to remain aggressive, but he has to be more careful where he takes the ball.
+ MSU guard Cassius Winston does it all for his team. Jackson calls him the head of the snake.
+ OSU needs to be “connected as one” in order to limit Michigan State’s passing game, which leads to easy baskets for the Spartans.
+ The young Buckeyes don’t get too up or too down. Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington are always level headed.
+ Last year’s win over Michigan State will always be remembered by the players who helped make it happen. “That game kind of turned our season around,” Jackson said.
+ Wesson likes that Holtmann is honest with them when he tells them how far they still have to go to be great. He doesn’t blow smoke at them. He keeps it real and that drives the team.