Record: 24-7 (15-3 in Big Ten)
Tournament Seed: 2
First Round Opponent: Winner of #10 Northwestern and #7 Penn State
Season Summary: Once again, this is another Big Ten team who started the 2017-2018 season with a new coach. In Columbus it was Chris Holtmann, former Butler coach, who took over the program. At Butler, he coached for 3 seasons after Brad Stevens left for Boston. He led the Bulldogs to a record of 70-31 and won Big East Coach of the Year in 2017. Unusual compared to other first-year head coaches in the Big Ten, Holtmann saw instant success in the conference. At the end of the regular season, he had his Buckeyes at 24-7 and 15-3 in conference play and won Big Ten Coach of the Year for greatly exceeding expectations.
Players to Watch: Keita Bates-Diop. Learn the name if you haven’t. Bates-Diop is one of the most versatile players not only in the conference, but in all of the nation. He earned Big Ten Conference honors last week, selected by both the media and the coaches, and for good reason: he averages 19.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG. At 6’7”, Bates-Diop can score down low, but he can also stretch the floor as he is able to shoot outside as well (.357 from downtown on the year).
X-Factor: The X-Factor for Ohio State’s success in the Big Ten Tournament, and in March in general, is 6’4 Senior Jae’Sean Tate. Tate plays extremely aggressive and physical, using all 230 lbs of his strong stature to grab rebounds and get into the lane. Holtmann trusts Tate to be a leader in the offense and it pays off a majority of the time, but Tate can also be careless with the ball. He averages 2.3 turnovers per game. However, if Tate is taking care of the basketball and hitting shots, this Buckeye offense flows well.
Verdict: The Buckeyes should have no problem with Penn State or Northwestern on Friday (despite being down 27 to the Wildcats earlier in the season, but eventually overcoming the deficit and winning the game). Saturday, they will probably be matched up against an extremely talented and experienced Purdue team. The Buckeyes defeated them at Mackey earlier in the season, but the Boilermakers have been hot after dropping three in a row earlier in the season. Look for a close game Saturday afternoon against Purdue, but I’m doubtful Holtman’s Buckeyes can take down an extremely good Purdue squad on Saturday at MSG.
Photo Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports.