Chris Holtmann: Big early wins don’t define Ohio State’s season

Adam Jardy
Ohio State's Luther Muhammad celebrates after the Buckeyes defeated Kentucky on Saturday in Las Vegas. It is one of the Buckeyes’ three wins against top-10 teams this season. [John Locher/The Associated Press]

Unbeaten after four games, the Ohio State men’s basketball team was in the dregs of its nonconference schedule and boasting gaudy statistics when coach Chris Holtmann urged for caution.

Yes, the Buckeyes had fended off Cincinnati in their opener. Yes, they had handed No. 10 Villanova a stunning 25-point defeat a week later. And yes, the team’s defense was already shaping up to be among the nation’s elite.

But to better understand when projections and statistics become reality, Holtmann said he had spoken with analyst Ken Pomeroy of for advice. After an 85-46 win against Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 22, Holtmann said the conclusion was that it took roughly 12 to 15 games, with more than a handful having been against similar talent level, to start seeing some truths.

That time is now, and what these Buckeyes have accomplished is unparalleled in program history.

With the wins against Villanova (76-51 on Nov. 13), No. 7 North Carolina (74-49 on Dec. 4) and last Saturday’s 71-65 win against No. 6 Kentucky in Las Vegas, this Ohio State team is the first in program history to have three top-10 wins before Christmas.

OSU’s level of play had the likes of Kentucky coach John Calipari calling the No. 2 Buckeyes the best team in the country leading into the game. Afterward, he described Ohio State as a “top one, two, three” team.

“I hesitate to talk about best team right now. Who knows?” Holtmann said following the win against the Wildcats at T-Mobile Arena. “Not one game defines us. None of those three wins defines us. It’s a long season.”

While that might be true, Saturday’s win helped cement Ohio State in the national conversation. In the final year of the CBSSports Classic, an event Holtmann said he hopes is renewed, the Buckeyes clearly were the best team in a nationally televised doubleheader featuring UCLA, North Carolina and Kentucky. That trio of teams has won 25 national titles.

The win came with multiple national media members on hand and even featured Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper sitting courtside wearing an Ohio State shirt.

“I feel like it shows we started out pretty well,” OSU junior center Kaleb Wesson said when asked what this start to the season has revealed about the Buckeyes. “There’s a lot of season left, but we started out pretty well. We’re going to continue to do that going forward.”

Just as the wins against the Tar Heels and both teams of Wildcats don’t define the Buckeyes, Holtmann said, neither does its lone loss, an 84-71 defeat at Minnesota on Dec. 15. If not for that defeat, Ohio State would almost certainly be the nation’s top-ranked team.

It was something to let marinate as the Buckeyes dispersed for the holiday. Players flew home after the game for an NCAA-mandated four-day break before returning to start preparing to face West Virginia on Sunday in Cleveland.

Holtmann said he had planned to spend the day after the Kentucky game doing all the Christmas shopping he’d put off while keeping his full attention on his team.

He’ll likely spend the break pleased but not satisfied, especially after taking one final question asking if he had a message for the “haters” casting doubt on this team’s merits.

“No, we’re not putting any stock into the haters or No. 1,” he said. “We got our fannies drilled at Minnesota, but (beating Kentucky is) a great win leading into Christmas. I don’t want to understate it.”