Ohio State's Chris Holtmann looks ahead to busy offseason and more on final radio show

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Monday marked the first day of the offseason for the Ohio State men’s basketball program. Sunday afternoon, the No. 7 seed Buckeyes exited the NCAA Tournament with a second-round defeat at the hands of No. 2 seed Villanova. After a 71-61 loss at PPG Paints Arena, Ohio State closed the 2021-22 season with a 20-12 overall record.

Now the Buckeyes immediately jump into what figures to be an active offseason. Assistant coach Ryan Pedon is now the head coach at Illinois State, leading scorers E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham have NBA decisions to make, Justice Sueing and Seth Towns have the ability to return next season and Ohio State figures to hit the transfer portal hard while awaiting the arrival of a five-man recruiting class.

With all of that going on, and with two Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16coach Chris Holtmann held his final weekly radio show of the season.

In case you couldn’t listen, here are the highlights.

E.J. Liddell, Malaki Branham decisions atop offseason to-do list

Although the Buckeyes have started preparing for some of the potential outcomes this offseason, they are awaiting official word from Liddell and Branham on their future plans.

Having said that, it’s been clear for some time that Liddell is ticketed for the NBA.

“E.J.’s gonna move forward,” Holtmann said. “He’ll do it in his own timing, but certainly we would expect that to be the decision that he’s given every indication of (making).”

Branham is now being projected as a first-round NBA draft pick, and conversations will take with him along with each player on the roster.

It’s going to be a lot.

“Obviously Malaki will have a decision that he needs to make,” Holtmann said “I’ll need to meet with all of our current players including Justice and Seth. We need to find a replacement for Ryan Pedon. All those things have been in the works. To say my next few months are going to be busy would be an understatement. They’ll be extremely busy until we get our roster finalized.

“We’ll decide who we want to add in terms of the transfer portal.”

Kyle Young doing well after leaving game early

After missing three games with a concussion, fifth-year senior Kyle Young returned for the NCAA Tournament, started both games but left the Villanova game after incidental contact with Collin Gillespie.

Young is doing well, but it’s not clear if he could’ve played in the Sweet 16 had Ohio State advanced.

“Obviously we needed Kyle to close the game in order to push over the top,” he said. “Most importantly, Kyle’s health is fine. It was obviously the medical staff’s call to keep him out. They had him run and do sprints in the back and get a feel about how he was doing. If there was any concern, they were not going to put him in.”

Last year, Young suffered his second concussion in less than a month when he took an elbow to the head from Purdue’s Trevion Williams. This was not that.

“We all know how big Trevion Williams is,” Holtmann said. “It was not that at all. As he was running back after the score he hit, I believe it was Gillespies’s, shoulder. His cheek hit his shoulder. He did not feel it the same way that he had, against Trevion Williams. Could he have played next week? I don’t know.”

What is Chris Holtmann looking for in staff additions?

With Pedon moving on, Holtmann said the current staff will see some changes in his wake.

“Jake will be elevated to Ryan’s position,” he said. “He will also take the offense over from Ryan. We’ll continue to construct the staff here in the coming weeks. There will be decisions on who we’re hiring. Obviously it’s a position that’s garnered a lot of attention because of this place and the success we’ve had. We’ll find the right guy who fits.”

Holtmann was asked what he looks for when hiring an assistant coach.

“Guys that fit how we want to do things,” he said. “One of the things Ryan and Jake and Tony (Skinn) and really everybody on staff, they have a tremendous work ethic and that is required. If you’re going to do this well, it requires a lot of time you don’t have to be here all the time but there is an element of time required in jobs like this. It does consume you in ways other jobs might not. I want guys that appreciate what we’re trying to do, the culture that we’ve had and established.”

Buckeyes adjust to abrupt glare of offseason

After playing well against Loyola Chicago in the first round and in stretches against Villanova, Holtmann said it was an emotional locker room after the loss

“It’s always hard when it ends,” Holtmann said. “I thought our guys this week really played as well as we’ve played for stretches. That’s a little bit of a different feeling. Last year it was such an emotional finish. I think our guys felt good about the way they battled, particularly in that game (against Villanova). There was a lot of tears shed. They were certainly hoping to move on.”

The atmosphere at PPG Paints Arena added to some of the emotions.

“When you’re playing in that kind of environment and your kids have a feel for that, it gives them a taste of it that they definitely want back,” Holtmann said. “The reality is what you want is a roster that’s experienced that because it gives them a real hunger to get back next year.”

Holtmann cited one player in particular who spoke to the team after the loss.

“A guy like Jimmy Sotos in there talking to his team telling them how much he loves them and appreciates them,” Holtmann said. “We had a great group. That’s why we were able to weather the most adversity I’ve faced in 25 years of coaching in terms of injuries. We were able to do that because we really did have a close group that really cared about each other.”

Gene Brown returns to starting lineup

With a mostly fully healthy roster for the NCAA Tournament, second-year wing Gene Brown returned to the starting lineup for both games. His size and frame allowed the Buckeyes to play with more defensive versatility against Loyola Chicago’s Lucas Williamson in particular.

“Their best scorer was a 6-4 guy and we did not feel like it would be smart to put Malaki on him right now because of some of the load he was going to have to carry offensively,” Holtmann said. “More than anything, it gave Malaki a chance to be himself a little bit. We did a lot of switching too. Having Gene in the lineup allows you to switch, and you can also switch with Zed (Key). We have not been able to switch as successfully with Joey (Brunk), which is why we went with that more versatile lineup of guys from 6-6 to 6-8.”

‘True point guard’ Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle highlight recruiting class

Five freshmen are signed for 2022, and Holtmann ran down early scouting reports on each of them.

“It’s a phenomenal class,” he said. “It’s one of the best in the country. Bruce Thornton is an outstanding point guard and is going to be a really good player. He’s a big, strong, power, true point guard. Roddy Gayle’s a 6-4 guard that can really defend and has become our highest-rated recruit right now. Felix Okpara is a 6-11 impact shot-blocking center who can really do some things, really good athlete. Bryce Sensabaugh is a really challenging mismatch. I think he’s gonna be as big of a mismatch as we’ve ever coached. People are gonna have no idea how to guard him. Bowen Hardman is a shooter from the state.”

Purdue, Michigan representing Big Ten in Sweet 16

Nine Big Ten teams reached the NCAA Tournament, but only the Boilermakers and Wolverines are still playing.

“I thought we had a couple teams that could certainly get to the second weekend,” Holtmann said. “It’s hard to throw three or four (there). I thought Rutgers could’ve potentially made a run. Based on the season Michigan had people were surprised they got to a second weekend, but no one’s surprised with the talent they have in that group. A lot of it is seeding. I don’t know if there’s any generalizations you can make.”

The Big Ten has not won a national championship since Michigan State in 2000.

“I think our league has been the best league in the country in terms of overall depth,” Holtmann said. “We have the most teams that can win a game or two. Do we have the most teams that could win a national championship? No, that’s probably another league. It might be the Big 12 or the SEC. I think our league has been the deepest and the numbers back that up.”

Chris Holtmann meets Sister Jean after beating Loyola Chicago

After Ohio State defeated Loyola Chicago in the first round, Holtmann crossed paths with Sister Jean inside the arena and briefly spoke with her.

“She had no idea who I was, which was fine,” he said. “Someone said to her, ‘Hey, this is the Ohio State coach.’ She’s 102 and she is really with it. She’s really sharp. She had some Air Force Ones on in the school colors. It was great.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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