Ohio State accepted its invitation to play in the PK80 Invitational well before Chris Holtmann became its coach. At the time, Holtmann was at Butler, where he also accepted an invitation to participate in the tournament.
Now, when the tournament featuring 16 teams split into two eight-team brackets gets underway on Thanksgiving, Holtmann’s past and present could collide. The Buckeyes and Bulldogs were both slotted into the Motion Bracket, which means there are two scenarios where they could face each other.
Tuesday morning, before his team flew to Portland for the tournament, Holtmann was asked if he wanted such a possibility to come to fruition.
“No,” he said, pausing to collect his words while looking down at his hands. “OK? No, I do not want to play Butler. No, that would be, if you could talk about worst-case scenario, that’s at the top of my list there. I’ve got a lot of appreciation for that program and those guys and obviously I want to see us do really well, so it would be such a conflicted feeling. I’ve got asked that a few times from a few people.”
The teams are on separate sides of the bracket. In order for them to meet, both would have to win or lose their first two games and set up a Sunday showdown. Ohio State opens with Gonzaga and faces the winner or loser of a game between Florida and Stanford, while Butler opens with Texas and would face the winner or loser of a game between Duke and Portland State.
Earlier this week, Holtmann chatted with the Indianapolis Star about his time at Butler, the move to Ohio State and the ensuing backlash. You can read that by clicking here. During the preseason, I caught up with Butler's new coach and some players for a look at how the program is moving on without Holtmann. You can read that by clicking here.
And despite the potential for an uncomfortable reunion and the stress this tournament will put on his team, Holtmann said he has no regrets about taking part.
“I think it clearly makes sense in a lot of ways,” he said. “It was a no-brainer decision to be a part of an event like this because of what it can reveal about your team in these moments. Also, we get a chance to spend time together for a concentrated period of time, which is good for this group and good for us because we haven’t had that before. I do think there are some challenges between going out there, playing on the west coast, the timing of it all.
“We’re going to be playing Gonzaga, who’s a little more adjusted to that, but I think to play a quality, quality program that’s extremely well-coached like Gonzaga and to be part of a tournament that’s this prestigious obviously makes a lot of sense.”
The Buckeyes are expected to be at full strength, Holtmann said, after Micah Potter was injured in Sunday's home win against Northeastern. You can read that by clicking here.
The timing of the PK80 means that Ohio State will be far from home for some of the more important days on the school’s calendar. First, obviously, is Thanksgiving, the day of the Buckeyes’ Invitational opener against Gonzaga. Next is Saturday, the latest installment of the football rivalry game between Ohio State and Michigan.
What will the Buckeyes do for each day? Holtmann addressed that.
“We’ll have a Thanksgiving meal together as a team on Thursday with families that are there,” he said. “We’ll do that together. I’m kind of used to being away and our players being away for Thanksgiving, playing in these types of events. Usually around Christmas is when I want to give our guys a few more days, but I think the experience of traveling and being in tournament environments can be really beneficial.”
Then, there’s the Michigan game, which will be Holtmann’s first as a member of the program.
“I’m sure that we will be (watching it),” he said. “If we’re not practicing I’m sure our guys will be locked into that and we as a coaching staff will be cheering our fannies off on that one. I anticipate we’ll be certainly watching that.”
Obviously, the football game will kick off at 9 a.m. in Portland. Ohio State will play at either 6 or 8 p.m. on Friday, depending on Thursday’s result, with a final game at a to-be-determined time Sunday.
Senior Jae’Sean Tate said that while Portland was the site of the team’s last NCAA Tournament appearance, there won’t be any reminiscing or wayward thoughts while there.
“We just have so many new faces, but me and Keita (Bates-Diop) have to make sure the team knows this is a business trip,” Tate said. “We’re very confident that as a team, everybody knows that. When we’re out there it’s good to be in Portland but at the end of the day we have a task at hand. That’s the most important thing, being focused and mentally prepared. For (Gonzaga), it’s pretty close to them, fan-wise. We’re going on the West Coast, but it’s still a business trip.”
Added Bates-Diop, “I forgot about that. For us, that was so long ago. We aren’t trying to look back on that, we’re just trying to look forward and get back to the NCAA Tournament. We don’t think about the last time we went there; we’re just thinking about the next time we get there.”