All those tweets he saw back in January? Chris Holtmann saved them. All of them, he said.
And while he might have been joking when he said that Sunday after a 77-63 win over Michigan, the Ohio State men’s basketball coach could also begrudgingly understand why they had been sent in the first place.
January for the Buckeyes, which unofficially started with a Dec. 29 loss to West Virginia, was no picnic. But after having lost six of seven games at one point, they have dusted themselves off, banded together and ridden a tighter rotation to an 8-2 record in their past 10 games.
Entering the final week of the regular season, the trying times continue to fade into memory.
"I have been a part of some turnarounds from a difficult January, but I don’t think I’ve been a part of one this significant where you’ve seen such a dramatic turnaround," Holtmann said. "I give credit to our players on that. They’ve just owned the progress of this group and they owned some of the struggles that we had."
The turnaround has come in a conference rated as the best in the country by KenPom.com and projected to send 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament. It has come as the Buckeyes have played without their most explosive player (freshman D.J. Carton) for their past eight games and both their glue guy (junior Kyle Young) and a potential replacement (freshman Alonzo Gaffney) for their past two. In beating the Wolverines, Holtmann used a seven-man rotation that shrunk to six during the second half.
The upside to that is the each Buckeyes player knows his role. That has built confidence and a level of trust that junior guard CJ Walker said is helping to propel them.
"I’m not trying to sound cocky or anything, but our team is kind of built for the moment," Walker said. "We’re built for this. Our coaches believe in all of us. We feel like we could play at any level against any team, no matter if we have all 14 or the nine we have right now. Everybody’s built for that moment, so take advantage of it and play as hard as possible and we want to live with the results."
Against the Wolverines, that meant the team’s five starters scoring 73 of Ohio State’s 77 points and each playing at least 33 minutes.
"We’ve got a really good way about us with the tighter rotation," Holtmann said. "I don’t know if that’s as sustainable for us right now as we’d like that to be, but it’s working right now."
The operative phrase is "right now." Holtmann’s most comparable stretch to the one the Buckeyes are enjoying came during his second season at Butler, he said, when the Bulldogs were 14-7 overall and 3-6 in league play during the 2015-16 season before winning seven of their final nine regular-season games.
That season, the Big East was ranked as the third-toughest conference by KenPom. Ohio State’s final two regular-season games are against top-25 teams, which will give the Buckeyes nine games against ranked teams during the regular season including four of their last five games.
It’s why Holtmann is hesitant to believe the good times will last.
"I’m just concerned about, are we rolling tomorrow?" he said. "Clearly you can look back at the last 10 games and say we have played well, for the most part, in most of those games, but I’m so hesitant to stamp and say that’s where we’re at right now."
It’s certainly better than where they were several weeks ago.