Ohio State Men's Basketball Has Made Strides This Season, and Last Night Showed How a Change in Attitude Has Shown Why

By Johnny Ginter on January 12, 2018 at 10:20 am
Ohio State basketball player Musa Jallow drives the ball in a win against Maryland.

There are many ways to be lazy. You can be physically lax, moping on a couch or bed because that's definitely preferable to being upright and awake and being in meetings or working on a lathe or something. You can be intellectually slothful, bored with the world around you, chained to ignorance by your own lack of curiosity. You can even be emotionally lazy, hardly summoning the ability to give any damns about anything beyond your internet bill going up five bucks.

It's no way to live, really. Permanently, anyway. Being lazy for, say, an afternoon kind of rules. You're granted a long, dark tea-time of the soul every once in a while. But it becomes a problem when you can't stop being lazy, because laziness compounds on itself. Putting a knife in the washing machine shouldn't feel twenty times harder to do than just dropping it in the sink, but after 10 or 12 peanut butter sandwiches over the course of a weekend eventually it kind of does.

Maybe what I'm describing is more than laziness. Maybe it's being in a rut, or depression, or something else pent up that just hasn't expressed itself properly.

And I say that because I really don't think it's fair to describe what the Ohio State men's basketball team became under Thad Matta as "laziness." Matta, who has dealt with severe chronic pain for years and busted ass in ways most of us probably never will, still had players last year who worked hard and gave a ton of effort. It's more than right to give him props for what the team has been able to accomplish so far in 2017-18.

But there's no denying that the malaise that descended on the basketball program was deeply-set and hard to shake. You could see it in every Marc Loving kinda-sorta attempt at a rebound, or as the team would generally crumble as their opponent hit on back to back threes.

I was pretty skeptical that Chris Holtmann could reverse this in one season, especially given how little time that he had to put his stamp on the team before games started. I became less skeptical after the upset win against Michigan State, but like a lot of people I was concerned about a letdown game.

Which, uh... didn't materialize. To say the least. Instead, the Buckeyes put on a 91-69 absolute pasting of a team that was deemed to be Pretty Good at the beginning of the season (and still probably is Pretty Good, despite what went down at the Schott). But it wasn't just the fact that Holtmann's team won back to back games against tough competition that convinced me the team has undergone a serious attitude adjustment, it's that over and over again the 2017-18 Buckeyes show through individual plays that they are a tenacious, tough team that beats you in part by just wanting to win more than you do.

Three examples.

First, here's Jae'Sean Tate blocking an attempted Maryland three, which is tipped back to Kaleb Wesson, who passes forward to a streaking Jae'Sean Tate, who then dunks it home for a 24-22 Ohio State lead.

Obviously a lot of hustle on the part of Tate here, but the play is significant because a) it was a part of a great response to a Maryland run that a season ago would've caused the team to hang their heads and hope for fouls, b) it looked cool, and c) it put Ohio State up for good. After 24-22 the Buckeyes hit the gas hard and never looked back.

The next play also belongs to Tate, and is my favorite thing he's ever done in an Ohio State uniform.

Oh goodness

Don't just look at the insane, "That's my secret, I'm always angry"-ness of the rebound, appreciate the fact that Tate ran from stage freaking left off-camera, aka almost midcourt to fly into a group of players and emerge with the basketball. Ten seconds later Tate found Keita Bates-Diop for a three and all of a sudden Ohio State was up 34-24 and rolling.

Last one. Later in the game, after a torrent of threes, Ohio State is sitting on a 25 point lead with seven and a half-ish minutes to go. At this point, most teams would be content to just go ahead and start pulling up for jumpers after running the shot clock down to three seconds. That's not what Ohio State does here. Instead, they run a perfectly executed play to isolate Keita Bates-Diop on a completely hapless defender, which KBD finishes with a flourish.

It's crisp, focused play by a team up a bajillion points, playing really only against themselves. That's a rare thing to see for any team, really, and it's basically the equivalent of seeing a ghost when you compare it to the play of the team last season. Granted, a lot of that can be attributed to the presence of KBD, but his progression into an absolute machine on offense is part of the whole thing as well.

Also making this play great was the reaction from the bench:

Let's gooooooo

Look, it's not likely that Ohio State can rely on 17 or so three pointers every game for the rest of the season to carry the Buckeyes to the NCAA tournament. And before last night, that fact might've made me a little nervous; after all, this a group that started the season with low expectations about what they might be able to accomplish for a reason.

Now though, I'm much less worried. Even on a bad shooting night, even when calls aren't going their way, even when the other team is fueled by the fires of hell and making shots they never should otherwise, it's obvious that under Chris Holtmann this is a team with an insanely high level of Give A Damn, and will refuse to suffer any loss or even a slight 10-0 run by their opponents without a fight.

It doesn't just make them a dangerous team to play as they enter the heart of Big Ten season, it also makes them enormously entertaining to watch. Ohio State men's basketball is appointment television for the first time in a long time, and for those of us inclined toward laying on the couch and staring into space, we've got an inspiration on the court instead of a partner in crime.

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