IOWA CITY, Iowa — Chris Holtmann made a bit of Ohio State history on Thursday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Building on it will be even more challenging.
With a 92-81 win against Iowa, Holtmann became the first OSU coach to open his Big Ten career with three straight wins. Now, the Buckeyes turn their attention ahead to the next game on the calendar: a Sunday showdown with Michigan State, the nation’s top-ranked team and one riding a 14-game winning streak.
Outside the visitors’ locker room on Thursday, Holtmann told The Dispatch that this could be a challenge unlike any he’s seen before.
“They’re one of the best teams I’ve seen on film in my times as a head coach,” he said. “There may not be a better one that I’ve seen. We’ll attack it with aggressiveness and be confident in what we’re doing.
“We need great preparation, but I don’t know if I’ve seen a better team in my six-plus years as a head coach.”
The Buckeyes and Spartans are two of three Big Ten teams to enter the weekend undefeated. Purdue, which hosts Nebraska on Saturday, is the other. The Spartans entered the year as a legitimate national championship contender and were a unanimous pick to win the conference in a poll conducted by The Dispatch and the Athletic; the Boilermakers were pegged to challenge the rest of the league as runners-up.
Ohio State wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the conversation. They are after handing Wisconsin its worst-ever loss inside the Kohl Center, overcoming a 20-point deficit at home to Michigan and now dispatching the Hawkeyes.
Suddenly, Sunday’s game has taken on greater meaning.
“If you’re not hyped up and ready for this game, then I don’t know if you should play college basketball,” graduate transfer Andrew Dakich said. “This is the biggest game of the year for us and we’re really looking forward to getting at it” in practice Friday.
Ohio State hasn’t faced the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll since Feb. 10, 2013, when the No. 10 Buckeyes lost at home to No. 1 Indiana, 81-68. The last OSU win against the No. 1 team came in the final regular-season game of the 2006-07 season, when the second-ranked Buckeyes beat top-ranked Wisconsin 49-48 in Value City Arena.
Holtmann said Thursday that he hasn’t watched a lot of the Spartans yet. He’s familiar with them from watching Michigan State face North Carolina, which Ohio State played on Dec. 23, in the PK80 Invitational in Portland.
The Spartans’ lone loss came to Duke on Nov. 14. Michigan State is 3-1 against top-40 teams in the KenPom.com rankings, while Ohio State’s four losses have all come against top-40 KenPom teams. The lone top-40 Buckeyes win was against Michigan.
“Listen, they’re a legitimate national championship contender,” Holtmann said of the Spartans. “We’re a program that is trying to find our way here a little bit with a lot of new guys. We have not been through something like that as a group with a team of that caliber coming into our place. We’ll attack it and prepare really well.
“We’ll see, but I think in anything we’ve had our good moments this year, we’ve also been humbled at times, so we’ll see how we play on Sunday.”
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