The ever-present balancing act that is scheduling in college basketball always takes an outright topple when final exams roll around. For Ohio State, that has meant a 10-day break leading into a game Saturday against Bucknell.
Will there be rust for the Buckeyes? Probably. Since a hard-fought win against Illinois in Chicago at the United Center, coach Chris Holtmann has tried to keep his team dialed in while balancing the need for adequate time for academic work.
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It’s not a unique situation. The Bison will be 11 days removed from their last game. But it’s cause for plenty of worry for a coach.
“You’re always anxious as a coach coming off a 10- or 11-day layoff,” Holtmann said Friday morning before practice at Value City Arena. “You’re wondering about your players with the rust, their game conditioning, all of that. There’s always going to be a significant layoff around finals because of how important that week is, and there needs to be a layoff, but it’s an anxious time for coaches.”
All members of the roster are expected to be eligible and fully healthy, Holtmann said. The time away did afford them some opportunity to work on a few key areas that needed addressing.
Atop the list: Improving a turnover percentage that is 165th in the nation and working on a defense that has exceeded early expectations despite having less overall length from a season ago.
“Always focusing on defense,” sophomore Kyle Young said when asked about the team’s practice approach. “That’s big for us. We’ve got to be a defensive-minded team. Toughness. Turnovers was a big thing for us, too. We really focused this break on not turning the ball over, stuff like that.”
Much like during the preseason, the Buckeyes occasionally took to some team scrimmaging to try to spice things up. With the roster split evenly, Holtmann put one assistant in charge of each team while he oversaw the action.
“That’s fun,” Young said. “We’ll switch it up a lot and have a different coach every time. You get in the huddle with the coaches and it’s like you’re actually playing against someone else in a real game. They treat the situation just like that.”
It’s a lull the Buckeyes will need to get used to for a while. Owing to finals and the holidays, they will play only four games between the win against the Illini and the resumption of Big Ten play Jan. 5 against Michigan State at Value City Arena.
In addition to the time away, the start time for the Bucknell game also presents a change to the routine. With a noon tip, the Buckeyes will stay together at a hotel before getting to the arena Saturday morning. Friday’s practice was slated to include more up-and-down running than normal.
“Ten days is a long time,” Holtmann said. “You’re trying to find ways to keep them sharp, you’re giving them a few days off for their academics more than you normally would so you’re worried about conditioning. We’ve tried to stay on top of that with certain guys, getting some extra conditioning.”