Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann updates Big Ten basketball schedule, state of team

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State guard CJ Walker is introduced before a game against Indiana in February.

There are a lot of "probablys" for the 2020-21 Ohio State men's basketball season.

The NCAA has set a Nov. 25 season start date, and the Buckeyes will probably play on that date in South Dakota in the tournament formerly known as the Battle 4 Atlantis. That will probably leave them a maximum of four more nonconference games, with the Big Ten set to probably play 20 league games this season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But plenty of that is subject to change in the coming days as college basketball coaches across the country work to put together schedules that have been heavily altered or in some cases completely scrapped because of the pandemic.

So while Holtmann is excited about the maturity level and the versatility this year’s team figures to bring to the court, as he enters his fourth year with the program he’s still trying to figure out who Ohio State will be playing, when and where.

“It’s pretty fluid right now,” Holtmann said.

Although the sentiment is leaning toward playing 20 Big Ten games for a third straight season, Holtmann said a final decision has not been reached and that number could potentially grow to 22.

That would give the Buckeyes a maximum of only five nonconference games, and two are spoken for: Ohio State will play on the road in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against an opponent to be determined, and it will face North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 19 at an undetermined location.

Participation in the South Dakota event could hinge on the length of a Big Ten season.

“If it is increased, and we’ll know that soon, that’ll change the rest of our schedule to some degree,” Holtmann said. “Beyond that, I couldn’t give you any more specifics, even including the South Dakota event.”

The Buckeyes have mostly been on campus since mid-June but have not yet been able to participate in full team workouts. That will come when they hold their first practice, which will be allowed as early as Oct. 14. But even if they could have been practicing, they would have been missing three players, two of whom won’t be available when practice does start.

California graduate transfer Justice Sueing is healthy and back to action, but Harvard graduate transfer Seth Towns and fourth-year junior Musa Jallow likely will not see game action until sometime in December.

Towns, who has missed the last two years due to knee injuries, is making “good progress” from surgery in January, Holtmann said, but his playing games in late November is questionable.

“At this point, I’m not sure he will be ready, and I think he probably feels the same way,” Holtmann said. “He’s going to need more time than that, but we’ll know more in the coming weeks.”

Holtmann said that while there was some hope Towns could be ready for the start of the season, his current status is not viewed as a setback given the length of time he’s been out.

“He has really progressed,” Holtmann said. “This particular surgery that he has, it does take varying degrees of recovery before guys feel completely comfortable returning to game action. We were optimistic, and still are, that come late November he’s going to be in a place where he feels confident enough to play in game action, but I think it’s probably a tall task right now. He’s just got a ways to go.”

Jallow underwent two procedures on his right ankle before taking a medical redshirt last season, and Holtmann said he’s potentially a little further along than Towns but has not been able to do workouts yet.

There could be more help arriving soon. Holtmann said the Buckeyes have applied for a waiver for Jimmy Sotos, a transfer guard from Bucknell who had been ticketed to sit out the season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, to play immediately, but they have not yet received a response.

Holtmann is taking a 5% pay cut as the athletic department faces a significant financial deficit due to the pandemic, and he said the program will also look to trim costs wherever possible. In addition to the savings from not being able to travel for recruiting, Holtmann said the Buckeyes are looking at busing to appropriate games rather than taking charter flights.