Ohio State fans get their first look Sunday at what a Chris Holtmann-coached Buckeyes team will look like.
One week ago, members of the program got their first real taste, away from prying eyes. In a closed scrimmage at Xavier, one that the Buckeyes apparently won against an injury-depleted Musketeers team, Holtmann got the chance to evaluate his players against new competition.
What he saw was encouraging, even though he described both that day and Sunday's exhibition against the College of Wooster as just another day of practice on the road to preparing for the season opener on Friday against Robert Morris.
Xavier was "banged up significantly, but I think anytime you go against a strong program that has good athleticism, good size, good veteran players, good young players, I think you get exposed in a lot of areas, and we did,” Holtmann said. “I thought the thing I was pleased with the most was our guys were, I think, connected at both ends.”
That included redshirt junior Keita Bates-Diop, who played his first game against someone else in nearly 10 months and is fully healthy for the first time in more than a year. He was slowed by a shin stress fracture during the 2016 offseason, and a high-ankle sprain early last season took him out of the lineup and led to season-ending surgery.
Holtmann and Bates-Diop used the same word to describe the forward being on the court: great.
“Playing last week was so much fun, and the energy was positive all around,” Bates-Diop said. “It was an amazing feeling.”
Holtmann said that although the Buckeyes were successful at forcing Xavier into turnovers, they allowed the Musketeers to rack up too high a shooting percentage for his liking.
On offense, the concept of playing hard and fast while avoiding taking shots too early in the possession is one that Ohio State is apparently still learning.
Senior Jae’Sean Tate said he enjoyed the opportunity in part because it was the first of many “lasts” during his final year. It didn’t hurt that he liked how his team played, though.
“I think this is a team that, they just want to go out there and play hard,” he said. “There weren’t really any hidden agendas. Everybody just played their role, and that’s what made it fun.”
Whether all that leads to an improvement on last year’s 10th-place finish in the Big Ten remains to be seen. Regardless, Tate said fans will see a different type of Ohio State team this year.
“If there’s a loose ball, I feel like at any point in time, all five of those guys will be willing to dive into the third row to save the ball,” he said.