Today’s Topic: Is This Season Already a Success for Ohio State Basketball?
If a season is a failure when a college basketball team misses the NCAA Tournament, does that make the season a success when a team makes the field of 68? Especially when they actually win their first-round game?
Well, it depends on the team and it depends on the circumstances.
Ohio State made the tournament this season when not many expected them to do so. Then they went ahead and beat Iowa State, which even fewer thought would happen.
It may be difficult for some to call Ohio State’s current 20-14 record a success, but context needs to be considered.
Head coach Chris Holtmann took over a program that had missed the NCAA Tournament two years in a row after seven-straight years of tourney bids.
Last season was very much a success, as the Buckeyes surprised everybody and played their way into a 5-seed. Veterans Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate led the way as two of the best players in the Big Ten in their respective final seasons in the Scarlet and Gray.
Ohio State was not equipped to replace either Tate or KBD this year, let alone both, and let alone four seniors in total, and Holtmann knew it going into this season.
“We’ve never coached a team where it’s been this number of new faces and you’re trying to figure out with each passing day who we are and who we’re becoming,” Holtmann said this week. “And that’s been the challenge. And listen, it’s been a challenging year in a lot of ways, but to see your name come up is pretty special.”
When trying to decide if this season was a success or not, ask yourself if you thought they’d be here at the start of the season.
Holtmann was asked that question and his answer tells you that he believes this season was very much a success, despite how difficult things have been for much of the year.
“I thought we would have to play well [to make the NCAA Tournament],” he said. “I did. I thought if we played well, I thought it could be very, very close. If we had guys step into new roles and increased roles, which we’ve seen with a number of guys. Kaleb [Wesson] is better. Andre [Wesson] is better. Keyshawn [Woods] has helped us. The freshmen have helped us. Kyle Young stepped up.
“I thought if we had some of that, we would have a chance. But no, I didn’t look at the projections. How can you when we lost what we lost? And those four seniors were all very impactful. Beyond their play, one of my biggest concerns was their overall leadership.”
Holtmann believed his team would have to play well just to make it a close call. He was right about the close call, so maybe he was right about the rest of it too.
When he says the team would have to play well, it’s a relative meaning. This is not Holtmann’s most talented OSU team. In fact, it will likely be quite the opposite. But he has them as close to their potential as they could probably get, which is really all you can ask of a team. That’s what makes the season a success, and anything beyond that is a bonus.
Holtmann certainly appreciates what this team has done in just getting to the tourney.
“When you do this, you certainly understand that it’s not an entitlement, getting to the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “It’s something that has got to be earned. And it’s hard. It’s hard to earn those, and it’s hard to consistently earn those. When you look back at our storied history, different times, in the 60s four times [to the tournament], one of those obviously being a national championship. Our only national championship.
“The 70s one time. The 80s five times. The 90s four times. Then 2000-2010 seven times. And 2011 and counting, it’s six and counting. But never more than three years in a row until Coach Matta went seven years in a row from 2009 to 2015. So when you think about how hard it is to consistently – a program that has had a number of really good plays, and number of really good coaches – until that 09-15 stretch, we had never been more than three-straight years. It’s a reality check on how hard this is to consistently get there.”
And what does it mean to make it in each of Holtmann’s two seasons in Columbus?
“Very meaningful,” he said. “I think it’s meaningful to me. I think you just can’t explain how happy you are when you see your seniors’ faces happy. Keyshawn, the reason he came here was to play in the NCAA Tournament. It was the reason. It wasn’t me. He basically came here and said, ‘Hey, I’m putting my faith in you that I can get there and play.’ I don’t know if I can overstate how important it is. It’s so much better than the alternative.”
The Buckeyes will now get to play a second game in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, and not many would have believed that was possible just a few weeks ago.
When you’re doing the near-impossible, that has to be a success, right?