Chris Holtmann had been on the job at Ohio State for a few weeks when the magazine stand at his local bookstore rankled him.

It was before the 2017-18 season, and the Buckeyes were such a national afterthought that the regional cover for Athlon Sports’ annual college basketball preview issue made no mention of them. Indiana’s Robert Johnson graced the cover with a headline of “It’s Miller’s Time at Indiana,” a nod to the other first-year Big Ten coach, Archie Miller. Inside, Ohio State was projected to finish 12th with the following summary: “Chris Holtmann left more talent at Butler than he inherits at OSU.”

Two years later, the 2019-20 season preview paints a much different picture. With junior center Kaleb Wesson as the dominant cover star, Ohio State is the No. 14 team in the country and projected to finish third in the Big Ten and reach its first Sweet 16 since the 2012-13 season.

“Kaleb Wesson’s return vaulted the Buckeyes into the official position of Big Ten Dark Horse,” the magazine reads. “Holtmann signed the league’s top recruiting class; if freshman D.J. Carton delivers at point guard, beware.”

Wesson is listed as the nation’s No. 58 overall player and a second-team all-Big Ten player. He is the only Ohio State player on any of the all-conference teams and shares the cover with smaller photos of Xavier’s Naji Marshall, Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland and Dayton’s Obi Toppin.

Junior point guard CJ Walker, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida State, is named as one of 17 transfers to watch this season. So, too, is Wisconsin’s Micah Potter, who left the Ohio State program last year.

The Buckeyes are projected to finish behind Michigan State and Maryland, in order, with the Spartans pegged to win the national championship. Seven Big Ten teams are included in Athlon’s NCAA Tournament projection: Michigan State, Maryland (Elite Eight), Ohio State, Purdue (second round), Illinois (second round), Michigan (first round) and Iowa (First Four). Ohio State is in the bracket as a No. 4 seed, beating No. 13 seed Bowling Green and No. 5 seed Baylor before losing to No. 1 seed Kentucky in the South Region.

“Holtmann has shown he can both coach and recruit with the best in the Big Ten, and he has enough firepower to chase a league title and return OSU to the NCAA Tournament,” the page on Ohio State concludes for its final analysis. “Still, the Buckeyes will need to embrace the path of development, and Kaleb Wesson must play with the consistency and reliability that have eluded him thus far in his college career.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy