Why Ohio State basketball will be like Ohio State football: 5 thoughts on confusing Buckeyes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Five thoughts on Ohio State basketball after a 20-point comeback, and a 71-62 win over Michigan on Monday night.
1. I've decided that this Buckeye basketball season is going to go like the Ohio State football season in the sense that we're not going to be sure which team is going to show up on a given night. And that will create frustration.
The difference is that we knew Ohio State football at its best was one of the best teams in college football. This OSU basketball team at its best is probably still an NCAA Tournament bubble team. So that's different. Way different. Can't stress enough how different that is.
It's the unknown element that makes them similar. It's reverse performance relative to expectations. It goes beyond the normal ups-and-downs of watching young adults play sports. It's one of those, 'Wait, you can do that? Well why don't you do that all time?' feelings.
We felt it when Ohio State football lost in Iowa City, then soundly beat Michigan State 48-3. We felt it (on a smaller scale) when OSU basketball blew double-digit second-half leads in back-to-back losses -- reminding us that Chris Holtmann's first season could be a very long one -- only to follow that up with a blowout win at Wisconsin and then what happened against Michigan on Monday night.
We thought Ohio State football would be great, and at times it couldn't get out of its own way. It then lost a game we didn't see coming by an unthinkable margin. That allowed doubt to creep in for the rest of the season. We expected this Ohio State basketball team to struggle, and here it is at 7-3 with some nice wins and a reason for cautious optimism. Maybe?
"Who's going into Wisconsin and winning like that?" Michigan coach John Beilein said Monday.
Nobody. Such a loss for Wisconsin hadn't happened in Madison for a long time. Ohio State beat Wisconsin 83-58 last Saturday. It was the Badgers' worst loss ever at Kohl Center. The Buckeyes followed that up on Monday with their first 20-point comeback win since 2007.
"Try to make every game as exciting as possible around here," Holtmann said. "That's one of the things Gene (Smith) said when he hired me. Just create drama in every game, as much as possible."
Holtmann better be careful, or he might start creating some actual outside expectations this season.
I don't want overstate the magnitude of beating Wisconsin and Michigan. These were two unranked teams, but still top-50 teams according to KenPom. Ohio State was picked to finish 11th in the preseason Big Ten medial poll. Both Wisconsin and Michigan were picked to finish in the top half of the league. These were good wins. Not great. But also unexpected if you would have asked anyone before this season.
The way Ohio State played for 40 minutes against Wisconsin, and in the second half against Michigan -- composed, smart, aggressive, connected -- makes you think it can hang with most teams on its schedule. So when the next letdown comes, some loss we didn't see coming, we'll be scratching our heads.
Remember Wisconsin and Michigan? Why don't you do that all the time?
2. Beilein, who might be about as genuine of a guy as you'll find in coaching, likes Ohio State -- for whatever that's worth.
"Keita Bates-Diop, they probably would've been an NCAA Tournament team last year if he doesn't get hurt," he said. "It's just like when we lost Caris LeVert. It just happens to teams. He's really a special player. He's probably gonna be a first-team all-league performer. (Kaleb) Wesson is like a young (Jared) Sullinger."
3. This was an important moment of growth for Ohio State.
"Maybe as important as anything is that our players have been able to see success," Holtmann said. "I think that's important for a new coaching staff, a new group. It shows some of the things we've been working on, and communicating, can be successful if they stay committed to that. Certainly that could've been questioned after a couple rough games."
4. Holtmann was prepared to lose Monday's game.
Down 20, he was just hoping for some kind of spark that told him his team hadn't quit. When Keita Bates-Diop started the second half by jumping into passing lanes, using his length to create deflections and opportunities, Holtmann had seen what he was hoping for.
The Buckeyes basically stood around for the first 18 minutes of the game while Michigan screened and passed its way to easy offense. Ohio State, with the help of a defensive adjustment that had players switching on screens, finally found an answer toward the end of the first half with a 7-0 that bled over to the second and snowballed into a 16-0 run.
Next you thing you knew, it was tied. Then the Buckeyes were in the lead. Then they won a game that was so poorly played in the first 20 minutes that some people left and found something better to do on a Monday night.