Ohio State essentially put a bow on its week of limbo with a closed-door, intrasquad scrimmage Friday night at Denison University. But in a week filled with meticulous planning and scheduling to try and make the most of the lengthy layoff between the Big Ten tournament and Selection Sunday, but the Buckeyes ran into some transportation issues.
“It was good to go and scrimmage at a different place the other night and have a meal together and just spend some time together,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said Sunday night. “We actually had a bus issue, so we had to hop in coaches’ cars and drive over there together.”
Denison is located in Granville, Ohio, roughly a 40-minute drive from Value City Arena. For the drive, Holtmann said he had senior Jae’Sean Tate as his co-pilot in the passenger seat. Kaleb and Andre Wesson were in the middle row of his SUV with C.J. Jackson in the third row.
“You get a chance to actually talk to your guys and spend some time with them on a different level,” Holtmann said. “We loaded up and caravanned out there and that was a good thing, but we need good days of preparation here.”
Ohio State has played just one game since closing the regular season at Indiana on Feb. 23 with a double-overtime win. That was the loss to Penn State in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament, nine days before Selection Sunday.
Those days involved a lot of conditioning, by all accounts, but not any drastic changes to the way the Buckeyes play.
“More of a tune-up because we had to keep our conditioning up,” junior forward Keita Bates-Diop said. “We’re not going to change who we are this late in the season. It’s just fine-tuning stuff at this point.”
Holtmann didn’t get into too many specifics on what Ohio State worked on during the break, only to say the team is trying to improve on both ends of the court.
Moments after Ohio State’s postseason was announced on the scoreboard at Value City Arena, Tate and Bates-Diop met with reporters for about 10 minutes. Both professed to know nothing about first-round foe South Dakota State, a fair response given the lack of familiarity with the Summit League.
From a coaching standpoint, though, it turns out that the Buckeyes have been scouting the Jackrabbits, among other teams.
“All the video is set up and ready to go,” Holtmann said. “We looked at all the potential 12, 11 teams as we were going to fall in that and already began the video work. We had talked about doing some advanced scout, but we really would’ve been spinning our wheels because we were going to play Buffalo and New Mexico State and South Dakota State and then it was going to be maybe Syracuse.”
The video work involved cutting up game clips of opponents and organizing them by situations, Holtmann said: offensive clips, defensive clips, out-of-bounds clips, personnel clips, etc.
“All that’s ready to go,” he said. “Our staff is already in the bunker (preparing).”
Enjoying the scene
The Buckeyes opened the doors to their arena to allow the fans to watch the bracket unveiling along with them. Those who filtered in shortly before 5 p.m. were treated to the American Athletic Conference championship game featuring Houston and Cincinnati on the scoreboard.
When Houston committed a game-sealing turnover in the final seconds, a collective gasp was audible in the arena. Tate put his hands on his head in disbelief, or perhaps out of sympathy.
Before the selection show, Holtmann addressed the crowd for about four minutes. He thanked them for their attendance and their support and singled out students from the Nuthouse cheering section for not being in the Bahamas or “somewhere sunny” for spring break. When a student replied that it was sunny today in Columbus, Holtmann said, “You’re right. It’s always sunny when you’re playing in the NCAA Tournament, that’s for sure.”
It got a round of applause.
Butler makes it
The teams selected to the tournament were unveiled in alphabetical order before the bracket seedings were announced. That meant that as the Buckeyes and Holtmann were seated in a row of folding chairs, they saw the coach’s former school, Butler, be named to the tournament.
Holtmann made no external recognition of the fact, and the same applied with the Bulldogs’ seed was announced. I asked him afterward how he felt to see Butler make the cut.
“I’m really happy for those kids and the coaching staff at Butler and that program,” he said. “That’s four straight NCAA Tournaments. I’m really, really happy for that group and excited for them and excited to see them in the tournament and how things go. I’m proud of them and happy for them.”
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