Chris Holtmann was 4-1 against Big Ten opponents during his three-year head coaching stint at Butler, recording wins over Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue. With a record like that, can he bring success in conference play back to Columbus? He'll have to go through these five teams first.
2016-2017 Record: 24-12
This may not seem like the most important matchup of the upcoming season, but after the Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history and earned their first win in Columbus since 1977 last year, they will be looking to repeat their success.
Northwestern returns nearly all of their players from last season's roster, including their main playmaker Bryant McIntosh. An Indiana native, McIntosh averaged nearly 15 points and five assists a game last season en route to a All-Big Ten Second Team selection.
Additionally, the university is located just north of Chicago on the banks of Lake Michigan in Evanston. With that being said, the Wildcats sit in a heavy recruiting ground of the Midwest, and the Great Lakes region specifically has proved to be fruitful with players.
If Northwestern can carry over from 2016-2017, it will provide a huge test for the Buckeyes next season.
2016-2017 Record: 26-12
This opponent needs no explanation as to why it's a huge game for Chris Holtmann in his first season.
Thad Matta boasted a 20-7 record against the Wolverines during his 13 seasons in Columbus, and Buckeye Nation will expect this trend to continue with Holtmann. It won't be easy, though, as John Beilein has took the program to seven NCAA tournaments in the past nine seasons, and returns a core group from last year's Sweet Sixteen squad.
Similarly to Northwestern, Michigan has proven to recruit heavily in the Great Lakes region — and more specifically, throughout Ohio. The Wolverines have zeroed in on a handful of central Ohio players for their future classes, such as 2018 small forward Jerome Hunter and 2019 power forward Taylor Currie, who has already committed to TSUN.
Holtmann said in his opening press conference Monday that he is aware of who the Buckeyes' rival is, and if he can keep recruits in Ohio and continue Matta's winning ways against Michigan, fans of the Scarlet and Gray will be happy. Some NCAA tournament appearances help, too.
2016-2017 Record: 27-10
As a program that has not missed the NCAA tournament since the 1997-1998 season, Wisconsin basketball has grown into a powerhouse program behind former coach Bo Ryan and now under Greg Gard.
The Badgers reached the Sweet Sixteen last season after knocking off Virginia Tech and Villanova in the first two rounds, but have lost two key components from that roster in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig.
Hayes and Koenig finished in the top five of every offensive category for Wisconsin last season, including leading the team in points in the final 11 games of their season. Koenig dropped 21 and 27 points during two games against the Buckeyes in 2017, splitting wins in Madison and Columbus.
Despite this massive offensive gap in the Badgers starting five, Wisconsin seems to always bounce back from big losses from their roster. Despite the departures of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker for the NBA after an NCAA title game appearance, the Badgers still managed to reach the Sweet Sixteen in 2016.
Holtmann will have his hands full with this one.
2. MICHIGAN STATE
2016-2017 Record: 20-15
Sparty is one of the more interesting matchups for Holtmann in his first season at the helm — simply because it will be the first time in 13 years that Matta and Tom Izzo will not be on opposing sidelines. Note: Matta was 12-16 against the Spartans during his tenure.
Michigan State has an extremely rich history since Izzo took the program's reins in 1995. The Spartans missed the NCAA tournament in his first two seasons, but have managed to rack up 20-straight appearances, currently third behind Kansas (28) and Duke (22).
Despite an unusually down year last season, the Spartans return one of the top freshman in the nation from last year in Miles Bridges. In his first year, Bridges finished amongst the top of the team's offensive statistics and was expected to be a lottery pick in this year's NBA Draft — until he wasn't.
Last season felt like a fluke for Izzo's program, and therefore, I think Sparty will return to the top of college basketball world. With that in mind, Holtmann will likely form another rival early on as coach of the Buckeyes and will need to produce wins against Michigan State to stay afloat in conference play.
2016-2017 Record: 18-16
In my mind, this is one of the best matchups of the college basketball season this upcoming year, and will be one to mark on your calendars when the schedules are released.
The first meeting between Ohio State and the Hoosiers will feature two coaches in their first year at their respective schools, Holtmann and Archie Miller. Miller went 139-63 in six seasons at Dayton, punching the program's ticket to the dance the last four years and winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular-season championships.
Additionally, I think I find this matchup so interesting because once rumours of Matta's time in Columbus began to fly around last season, Miller's name was one that was commonly found by people looking for his replacement.
Obviously that did not happen, and Ohio State found their man in Holtmann. However, this is one matchup you will not want to miss this upcoming season, and is what I think will be the first of many Holtmann-Miller meetings for years to come.