Ohio State men’s basketball aspires to be considered among elite

Adam Jardy
Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) jumps for a basket during the first period of the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Penn State Nittany Lions at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. [Maddie Schroeder/Dispatch]

There’s a graphic that will be shown, likely on multiple occasions, during Saturday’s college basketball doubleheader on CBS.

For a sixth straight year, the CBS Sports Classic will feature a quartet of teams — Ohio State, Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina — that boast a combined 26 national championships. The outlier in the equation is Ohio State, which is still in search of its second title, and its first since 1960. And while the Buckeyes have competed at a high level for much of their history, they lack the hardware to truly proclaim themselves among the blue bloods of the sport.

Coach Chris Holtmann, a Kentucky native, knows what it takes to reach that status after growing up a Wildcats fan. It’s going to take some time.

“I think when you’re talking about programs that are traditional blue bloods, what you’re really remembering is decades, 50 to 75 years’ worth of wins and national championships or national championship-contending teams,” Holtmann said Thursday. “When you’re talking about blue bloods, it’s family — ‘My grandfather watched them and went to every game, and so did my dad.’ It’s passed down and it’s a tradition of consistent, high-level winning.

“I certainly think we have great possibilities here as a basketball program. What that looks like is still being determined.”

Given their chances in this event, the Buckeyes have held their own. They’ve recorded wins against Kentucky and UCLA and are 2-3 overall. Earlier this season, they beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and at Value City Arena they thumped Villanova, a program Holtmann feels is elbowing its way into blue blood status with two recent national titles.

November and December wins aren’t the stuff of trophies, but these sorts of games are meaningful for Holtmann and his players.

“These are pretty big opportunities,” freshman E.J. Liddell said. “All those programs have been big programs for a long time, and I’ve watched them on TV for a long time since I was younger. It’s a blessing, and I’m just happy to come in, play my role and do what I can to help the team win.”

It also provides a chip the coaches can use while recruiting.

“When we’re talking to young kids and you say … we’re going to try to put you in positions where you’re going to be challenged and tested, but you’re also going to play on a national stage and play a national schedule, we need to be able to back that up with data,” Holtmann said. “And we have that, and we’ve been intentional about trying to put a schedule together that embraces that.”

The Buckeyes might be getting a boost back in their lineup as well. Sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr., who missed the past two games with an injury to the cartilage around one of his ribs, was slated to practice Friday in Las Vegas. Pain permitting, he could be back in action against the Wildcats. He’s Ohio State’s second-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game and leads the Big Ten with a 53.7% three-point shooting mark.

The future of this event, which has also rotated through Chicago, Brooklyn and New Orleans since its inception in 2014, is uncertain. Holtmann said he’d be supportive of continuing it into the future and added that the other three programs playing Saturday feel the same way.


Ohio State vs. Kentucky

When: 5:15 p.m. Saturday

Where: Las Vegas

TV: CBS (Ch. 10)

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)

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