For what was supposed to be a step-back season, Ohio State still had a few things to crow about when the 2018-19 season came to a close.
That’s why, since it ended, coach Chris Holtmann and his staff have been doing what they can to remind their players that it wasn’t nearly enough. On a team with significant offensive limitations, the Buckeyes charged out to a 12-1 start before enduring their longest losing streak (five games) in two decades. Still, they scraped out an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, won a game and bowed out to Houston in the second round.
It’s a far cry from three seasons ago, when they didn’t even receive a postseason bid, but it’s not the standard Holtmann is holding his players to. And to emphasize that, the staff has placed four numbers in prominent places throughout the locker room: 8, 12, 15 and 193.
There’s a message and a reminder in each. The Buckeyes finished eighth in the Big Ten last year with an 8-12 record. They finished with 15 losses, tied for the program’s most since a 14-16 record in 2003-04.
Tying it all together: all those numbers would have assuredly been better had Ohio State not finished 193rd nationally in turnover percentage.
“We walk past it every day going into the locker room, leaving the locker room, weight room, it’s on the TV screen while we’re lifting,” sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. said. “Our expectations for this team and for Ohio State in general are really high. We look at it and know that wasn’t good enough. We’ve got to figure out a way to do better this year.”
The point isn’t to belittle the players or to harp on the negatives, Holtmann said. It’s more a reminder that the potential for better things is present, and the expectation is that the Buckeyes can take another step forward.
“There were certainly a lot of good things that came out of last year, but there were some things that all of us have to do a lot better,” Holtmann said. “That’s the challenge in front of us. That involves our turnover percentage and our league record and our overall losses. It’s just a reminder on some things that we’re trying to intentionally be about getting better on a day to day basis.”
There is reason to believe this year will be better than the last, and much of it stems from the development of junior center Kaleb Wesson. In addition to dropping his playing weight by about 30 pounds, the team’s offensive anchor enters the season as an unquestioned leader on a youthful roster who is poised for an all-Big Ten type of season.
“Seeing a big-time player (change his body) sets a standard for everybody else,” junior guard CJ Walker said. “He’s a big-time leader on this team. Salute to him. That’s only going to help him in the long run and help this team win.”
Unlike last season, opponents will have more to worry about than Wesson in the paint. In particular, freshmen D.J. Carton and E.J. Liddell should provide a jolt to the offense.
If there’s a chief concern, it’s the overall maturity level of a team with seven of its 12 available scholarship players in their first or second years of college. Unlike Holtmann’s first two years, they will be part of a team that will begin the season with national expectations.
“Just stay steady,” senior Andre Wesson said. “Last year, that nonconference, we got maybe a little too ahead of ourselves, having that great start and not keeping ourselves level-headed and not as hungry as we could be. That’s our main focus this year: Control what you can control.”