Michael Arace | Ohio State basketball team gives glimpse of future — and it’s bright

Michael Arace
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann leads his team out of a timeout during the first half of the NCAA men's basketball game against the Villanova Wildcats at Value City Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. [Adam Cairns]

This sounds familiar:

“I don’t think we know what we’ve got yet. We’re young. We have two freshmen starting — but I think we have more upside than last year. This is a good game for us. These teams kind of match up.”

So said Steve Pinone, the radio color analyst for Villanova basketball, prior to the Nova-Ohio State game on Wednesday night.

Pinone came (way, way, way) off the bench for the 1985 Nova team that shook up the world by beating Georgetown in the NCAA championship game. He has been around the program, in a number of capacities, for decades.

Pinone might as well have been talking about Ohio State — another young, talented team that is early in the process of forming an identity.

The final score was 76-51.

“I knew we had a lot to learn,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said, “but I didn’t think we’d be that far behind at this point. … Much credit to Ohio State.”

With Andre Wesson (fractured eye socket) sidelined, the Buckeyes played without a senior. Sophomore Duane Washington, playing in Wesson’s spot, had three three-point baskets and a dunk as the Buckeyes raced to a 19-3 lead. Thereafter, they never lost control of the outcome. Not even close.

“These games are great,” OSU play-by-play man Paul Keels said before tipoff. He was speaking of early season, interconference, made-for TV mashups like these Gavitt Games.

Ohio State and Villanova had met three times previously — most notably 80 years ago, in the semifinals of the first NCAA Tournament. Jimmy Hull dropped 28 on Nova to lead the Buckeyes to a 53-36 victory at the Palestra. (Ohio State lost the championship game to Oregon in Evanston, Illinois, 46-33.)

Couple of things about Hull, an All-American: He was the first Most Outstanding Player in NCAA Tournament history, and not only is he in the OSU Athletic Hall of Fame, but he is also in the Rocky Mountain Orthodontics Dentist Athletes Hall of Fame. The only thing he didn’t win was a Tony.

Eighty years later, Wright has two national titles (2016, 2018) and his program is elite. There are some who think the Wildcats can mature into Final Four material this season. Villanova’s roster is teeming with highly rated recruits — and they’re going to be watching a lot of film before they play Ohio University at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday afternoon.

OSU coach Chris Holtmann, formerly of Butler, knows Wright’s teams well from their Big East battles. And, goodness, but Holtmann had his young charges prepared.

“The players were so laser- focused, I just tried not to get in the way,” Holtmann said.

That Nova was only playing its second game of the season might have had something to do with it. This much is true: Ohio State ran their stuff, ran it well, played as team, played without fear.

We all knew that this Ohio State team, like Villanova, had potential. Now we can see the depth of it. Somewhere, Jimmy Hull, who passed in 1991 — probably with a great set of teeth — is smiling.

Ohio State will leap into the top 10 when the new rankings drop next week. We'll see how the Buckeyes handle that going forward. Inevitably, every night is not going to be like Wednesday night, but Holtmann now has a better idea of the potential of this team. It’s quite a tape.


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