Michael Arace | Villanova will give young Ohio State men’s basketball team a good test

Michael Arace
Ohio State Buckeyes forward Kaleb Wesson (34) is guarded by UMass Lowell River Hawks guard Obadiah Noel (11) and guard Josh Gantz (12) during the first half of Sunday's NCAA basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus on November 10, 2019. Ohio State won the game 76-56. [Barbara J. Perenic/Dispatch]

Adults can see potential with greater clarity than children can, oftentimes because adults have the hindsight to see the potential they themselves have squandered. This is reason No. 1,573 why parenting can be so frustrating: Ultimately, kids have to find their own way.

There is an element of this in coaching. The best coaches have a good sense of an athlete’s potential and try like crazy to extract it. Ultimately, the athletes have to find their own way – and within a team construct, they have to do it together.

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The best teams find a way.

With this as a backdrop, we peered in on the Ohio State men’s basketball team last week.

The Buckeyes, in their first game of the . Coach Chris Holtmann called it “a rock fight,” breathed a sigh of relief and said he couldn’t care less about the aesthetics.

The Buckeyes, in their second game, coasted to a 76-56 home victory over UMass Lowell. It was a glorified workout. They can use the reps.

Next up: No. 10 Villanova visits No. 18 Ohio State on Wednesday night. Villanova, new Beast of the East — like UConn used to be, but without the NCAA violations. Dick Vitale’s temple veins pop when he talks about Nova coach Jay Wright, whose team has won two national titles and averaged 32-plus victories over the past five years.

On Sunday, Holtmann was asked whether he was curious about what he would see from his Buckeyes against Villanova.

“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s why you want to play games like that early. Yeah. Curious. You just don’t know.”

Holtmann, who took over for Thad Matta in 2017, won 45 games with overachieving teams over his first two seasons. By now, Holtmann has brought in two recruiting classes; his 2019 class is among the top 15 in the nation and, by acclaim, the best in the Big Ten.

Through two games, you can see the Buckeyes’ potential.

It runs directly through junior center Kaleb Wesson, a Matta recruit. The big fella dropped more than 30 pounds, down to 255, and is moving like liquid above his light feet. His greatest facility — his feel for the game, and his intelligence in playing it — has a more refined vessel.

That much was plain against Cincinnati: Holtmann tore up the game plan at halftime, stuck Wesson in the high post and let him open up the offense. Holtmann, with his assistants screaming at him, let Wesson play with four fouls for long stretches.

“It’s a luxury to have a five-man who can make the reads and decisions, pass it, isn’t going to turn it over,” Holtmann said.

Against UMass Lowell, Wesson was a low-post mismatch against a lesser opponent. He had 13 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. UML could neither double-team him nor leave him one-on-one.

“They’re really unselfish, and they make the right play,” UML coach Pat Duquette said of the Buckeyes in general and Wesson in particular. “The ball moves; that’s the best thing. Your team plays like that, you’re going to win a lot of games.”

The ball moves. It moves at blur in the hands of freshman point guard D.J. Carton, one of three Ohio State recruits who were ranked among the top 50 in the country. Carton is unselfishness, electrified.

Basketball is fun to watch when Carton and junior point guard CJ Walker are on the floor with Wesson. It’s one of many looks that Holtmann can tinker with. This team is full of freshmen and sophomores and has acres of space to grow. You watch them now and you wonder where their potential will take them in February, or March.

Next up: Villanova. With wing guard Andre Wesson (fractured eye socket) out of the lineup, Holtmann will, for the first time in eight-plus years as a Division I coach, not have a senior available for a game. (Credit to with all due respect to senior walk-on Danny Hummer.)

It’ll be sink or swim on national television.


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