Moments removed from a solid win at Iowa last week, coach Chris Holtmann said he wasn’t sure how much sleep he’d get before the next game.
On Saturday, the Ohio State coach slid into his seat for interviews and introduced himself as “a man that hasn’t gotten a lot of sleep the last couple of days.” And as he went on to extol the virtues of a top-ranked Michigan State team that will be at Value City Arena on Sunday, Holtmann built a pretty solid case.
The Spartans, winners of 14 straight games, lead the nation in effective field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage defense, according to KenPom.com. That combination is practically unheard of. The Spartans also are No. 2 in offensive-rebound percentage, No. 3 in defensive adjusted efficiency and No. 5 in offensive adjusted efficiency.
“‘Absurd’ is a good word,” Holtmann said. “I have a few other adjectives that come to mind. It’s rare to have the ability to be that efficient with your threes and your twos.”
As Holtmann rattled off those stats and others off the top of his head, the message was clear: This is a challenge unlike any the Buckeyes have seen this season.
It also presents a breakthrough opportunity in Holtmann’s first season, not too different from when Ohio State knocked off No. 1 Illinois to close the 2004-05 season, which was Thad Matta’s first as coach.
“It’s everywhere,” junior Keita Bates-Diop said of the reminders of Matt Sylvester’s shot from that game. “That’s what we’re trying to do, take down the No. 1 team in the country. Obviously, we’re not here to just play the No. 1 team in the country and get it over with. We’re here to win.”
After playing at Iowa, Ohio State had a light practice Friday that was heavy on weight-room work before diving into game preparation Saturday. Holtmann said the time off leading into the Iowa game was used to focus solely on the Hawkeyes, with no preparation for the Spartans.
As important as finding ways to blunt Michigan State’s size, length and athleticism has been the emphasis on properly approaching the moment without getting overwhelmed by it.
“You want your guys to enjoy it,” Holtmann said. “Yet at the same time, you’re never defined by one moment. It’s so early in the year, we’re not drawing any conclusions about anything at this point. You just don’t know at this point.”
In addition to being a unanimous preseason choice to win the Big Ten, the Spartans are among a select group of national-championship contenders. Ohio State has played both teams from last year’s title game, losing to Gonzaga by 27 points and to North Carolina by 14.
“You’ve just got to embrace the moment,” graduate transfer Andrew Dakich said. “Only a few conferences have the No. 1 team in the country and (give you the chance to) have them on your floor every year.”
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