Ohio State Coach Chris Holtmann Credits Fan Excitement, Gene Smith As Main Reasons for Future Series With Cincinnati

By James Grega on October 4, 2017 at 8:13 pm

It's no secret that Thad Matta avoided playing in-state opponents in non-conference games, especially those that could be a threat. 

Before even coaching his first game in Columbus, Chris Holtmann is already taking a different approach, as it was announced Tuesday that the Buckeyes have scheduled a home-and-home with Cincinnati, starting with the season opener in 2018-19. 

Holtmann, speaking for the first time since Ohio State opened full practice for the 2017-18 season, said the main factors for going ahead with the two-game series were Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith and desire from the fan base. 

"I give Gene Smith a lot of credit, because I think he was certainly behind this idea of playing this and supporting a series like this. I think he deserves a lot of credit," Holtmann said. "I had to sign off on it. He wasn't going to tell me, 'You have to play it,' or maybe he was. Certainly we both had to be in agreement on that. 

"Not only that, but there is no question the thirst from our fans has been – and I don't know that I really understood that until I had spent a few weeks to a few months here," Holtmann continued. "From a distance, I didn't understand the thirst for that from our fans. I think it was an education for me a little bit. The fact that they are a high-level program, a quality program makes even more sense."

Ohio State has not played Cincinnati since the 2012 NCAA Tournament, a game the Buckeyes won 81-66 in the regional semifinals before ultimately advancing to the Final Four. 

Holtmann said that moving forward, however, he might not put as much stock into who fans want his team to play.

"If the fans are hollering at you to play a certain team, and it's of no benefit, I am going to have to say 'Sorry fans, but this isn't the most prudent move right now,'" Holtmann said. "This met all the requirements to be a high-level game and the excitement was certainly a big part of it."

While Ohio State's previous regime did not schedule many games against in-state opponents, Holtmann said he has an understanding of why. 

Coming from a smaller school that wasn't the state's best or largest program, Holtmann said he has experienced the other side of scheduling smaller, in-state schools. However, he added that the game has evolved across the country and now, playing the improved in-state schools can bolster a strength of schedule come tournament selection time. 

"This met all the requirements to be a high-level game and the (fan) excitement was certainly a big part of it."– Chris Holtmann on scheduling Cincinnati.

"I heard it when I was in Indiana. 'Why would Indiana do the Crossroads Classic with Butler?' But it's changed in the last 15-20 years, where we have some accomplished programs," Holtmann said. "There was a year in particular where we were at Butler and Indiana beat us. Indiana was on the bubble for most of the season and we were their signature win. I think the argument that, 'You don't have to play them because you're the state university,' that doesn't resonate with me as much, because of the quality of the program and energy around the game and the fact it could be a good RPI game."

With Ohio State rebuilding a program that has not made the NCAA Tournament in the last two years, Holtmann said playing this game makes sense for the Buckeyes now and moving forward. The head coach also confirmed that his team will participate in a preseason scrimmage against Xavier, but did not offer up any further details. 

"I understand in some ways why it hasn't happened in the past," Holtmann said of Ohio State playing in-state opponents. "But Cincinnati is a top-25 program right now. If you win that game, that's a good RPI game. That helps you."

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