Just believing something does not make it true, which is my way of admitting I forgot what my grandfather taught me many years ago; that talent is important but teamwork is essential.

Watching Ohio State men’s basketball over the past several years, it was easy to blame often subpar results on a dearth of talent. A close loss? Not enough talent. A blowout loss. Ditto.

It got to where I believed getting high-end talent was all that matters, which is not true. Unfortunately for Ohio State, my sense is that former coach Thad Matta began to believe the same thing, turning his focus to recruiting players with multiple stars beside their names at the expense of players who intuitively understand how to play the game in sync.

Just a few weeks ago I blamed Ohio State’s lopsided 86-72 to North Carolina on talent differential. I still believe it to be the case, but after watching how the unranked Buckeyes dismantled No. 1 Michigan State 80-64 on Sunday, my memory was jolted to basketball conversations from nearly four decades ago.

Adam “Bop” Klein would sit in his favorite chair and reminisce about winning Ohio’s high school state championship in 1917. Among his nuggets of wisdom was that successful basketball requires connecting five dots, with each player representing a dot. If one player remains unattached by doing his own thing, it knocks cohesiveness out of concert. Without five-dot teamwork, the talent of any individual goes to waste.

He wasn’t saying talent is overrated, only that it is not the end-all. I had forgotten that until watching Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop score a career-high 32 points against MSU within coach Chris Holtmann’s five-dot offensive system. The future NBA player did not demand to “get his” every possession but operated within the flow of an offense that has found its rhythm for the first time in what seems like ages.

It mostly has to do with players functioning within their roles: Jae’Sean Tate providing energy and frustrating defenders with his sneaky left-handed bank shot; freshman Kaleb Wesson beginning to feel more comfortable as both a scorer and passer in the low post; Kam Williams looking increasingly confident with his perimeter shooting; and Andrew Dakich providing a spark off the bench with how well he sees the floor and makes the right pass.

The Buckeyes still have not reached the talent level necessary to play in the Final Four, but after watching their five-dot performance against the Spartans I am convinced they can challenge for a Big Ten title and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but the Buckeyes are 13-4 overall and 4-0 in conference play and need only to go .500 over the last 14 regular-season games to reach 20 wins.

“I am surprised by how we played in stretches,” Holtmann said Sunday, referencing the season to date. “I think our connection and our chemistry has been above and beyond what I anticipated.”

There it is. Five-dot connection. If it continues, I see at least 22 wins before the Big Ten tournament.

Holtmann isn’t ready to celebrate. He shrugged out “it’s the nature of college basketball” when told four of the top five teams in The Associated Press poll lost last week.

“I would not read much into any of those outcomes, including this one,” he said of the stunner against MSU. (The AP voters must agree, because they kept the Buckeyes out of this week’s top-25 rankings despite the 16-point win against the No. 1 team.)

Sorry, but I’m reading a lot into Sunday’s outcome. Connect the dots and you get a clear picture that Ohio State is on its way.



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