Here we are in mid-January talking about an Ohio State basketball team that is not only looking like a NCAA Tournament team, but looking like a Big Ten title contender.
Through 20 games, the Buckeyes are 16-4 overall and a perfect 7-0 in Big Ten play following a gritty 71-65 win over Northwestern on Wednesday in Rosemont, Ill. Chris Holtmann's squad has already matched its conference win total from last season and is just one more win away from matching the overall win output from the 2016-17 season.
Ohio State will get its chance to get win No. 17 on Saturday in Madison Square Garden against Minnesota, as the Buckeyes and Golden Gophers are set to square off in the Big Ten Super Saturday showcase event, which will be followed by a Minnesota and Michigan State hockey game later Saturday night.
Before the Buckeyes and Golden Gophers square off in New York City, we open the Eleven Warriors Mailbag and answer your questions surrounding the surging Ohio State basketball team.
Thoughts on Musa Jallow so far? - Seattle Linga
I thought he got off to such a good start that expectations for what he could be this season got a little too high. People seem to forget that Jallow should still be in high school and the jump in talent level from high school hoops to major Div. I college is not to be taken lightly. He also was forced to miss a good portion of summer workouts because of his reclassification, so that set him back as well, especially offensively.
Jallow has great defensive ability for his age, because of his freakish athletic ability, but his offense has clearly struggled as the talent level of Ohio State's opponents has increased. This year, his role will be to come in off the bench and provide solid perimeter defense and any offense that he gives you is a bonus. Another offseason will do wonders for his offensive game and I expect him to contend for a starting job in 2018-19.
What NCAA tournament site do you want the Buckeyes to go to? I'm hoping for Pittsburgh, Nashville or Detroit. - Bucknut1994
I will take any of the above, as they would be easy travel games, but having been to each city already once in my life, I will take Nashville any day of the week. I love country music and barbecue, so I wouldn't hate a weekend in Nashville to watch some hoops and stuff my face with BBQ.
With the current tear that we are on, it looks unlikely that anyone in the Big Ten besides Purdue stands in our way of conference supremacy. What do you think the chances are of us coming out on top? Possibly undefeated? - ITWASME
Don't throw out Michigan State or Michigan just yet. The Spartans have a roster with at least two, maybe three future NBA players and while they are struggling right now, I will never bet against Tom Izzo down the stretch. The Wolverines took a tough loss to Nebraska on Thursday night, but I really like Michigan's talent and Moe Wagner is a future NBA player.
Purdue is on a completely different level right now, even though they boast the same record as Ohio State. The Boilermakers are a legitimate national title contender, and I wouldn't say the same about the Buckeyes. I think OSU ultimately ends up losing three conference games, coming to Purdue and Michigan on the road and then one more that it should win, but will come up short. That said, if I told you at the beginning of the year that Ohio State would only lose three conference games all year, you would have taken it.
What is the most important change that coach Holtmann and staff have brought to the team that has brought on this success? - Sanatonefan
The addition by subtraction with players that are no longer in the program was a very good start. It is obvious that there were players in the locker room last year that brought a negative vibe to the team and had personal agendas. Not having those players there at the beginning of the year set the foundation for what Holtmann has been able to build.
From there, I think preaching defense and giving Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate his full confidence in leading the team has paid off and then some for Holtmann. Some first-year coaches come in with an agenda and are hesitant to give leadership roles to players that could have allegiances to the former regime. Holtmann had faith in Bates-Diop and Tate that they would buy in and lead in a positive manner. They have done that, and it shows on and off the floor.
Any targets of the radar from any class? Any recruits visit for the MSU game? - Zdog4307
Alonzo Gaffney continues to be one of the top targets not only for Ohio State, but for many teams across the country. I think the scandals at Louisville give the Buckeyes a better chance, but if a North Carolina or Duke pushes hard enough, it would be hard for a player of his caliber to pass up on a college basketball blue blood.
As far as I am aware, no premier recruits were at the Michigan State game, but there is no doubt that the win over the Spartans will catch the eye of some recruits, especially those in-state.
Is the team viewing Saturday's game in NYC as just another road game or are they treating this as a special trip? - Buckeyes01752
This is just another road game for the Buckeyes. Holtmann has coached in Madison Square Garden before in the Big East Tournament, and Ohio State has a quick turnaround on Monday to play Nebraska, so there won't be a lot of time to hang around the Big Apple. There will be plenty of time for that come Big Ten Tournament time.
Kyle Young's minutes seem to be declining. Any reason? - IBLEEDSCARLETANDGRAY
Most of it has to do with matchups and the fact that Micah Potter is beginning to find his rhythm again. Much like Jallow, Young is still developing his offensive game. When he is in he gives Ohio State great energy and rebounding, but he is currently a liability on the offensive end.
I think you will see Ohio State's rotation begin to shrink in terms of minutes for Young and Jallow, especially on the road, but the two freshmen will have to be ready off the bench if any starters get into foul trouble, especially Young as he can fill in down low.
What does your Crystal Ball say as to the Buckeyes win-loss at end of the season? And where does it put them in the NCAA March Madness? - LW O-H
As I mentioned earlier, I could see Ohio State losing as many as three conference games, which would put the overall record at 24-7 in a Big Ten conference that is having a down year. With that said, I imagine the Buckeyes would be a top-eight seed in the tournament, which is a huge win for this program considering what expectations were entering the year. As of Friday, ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Ohio State as a No. 5 seed and playing the opening rounds in Boise, Idaho.
Any chance we can flip Jeremiah Francis? - Buckeyeboy31
My first day on the job here at Eleven Warriors, I spoke to Francis, just days after he committed to North Carolina. He sounded like he was dead set on playing for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels, and you can't blame the kid for that. I have a hard time believing Francis would flip, but Ohio State's early success I am sure will at least catch his eye. Playing for a program like North Carolina, though, would be hard to pass up, especially considering Williams' track record of developing point guards to play at the next level.
What is a realistic expectation of where this team will be in the conference standing? In other words, can I cancel my hotel room for Wednesday and Thursday and skip straight to Friday in NYC? - Firedup
The way things are going, I think Ohio State has a great chance of earning a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. If the Buckeyes can steal a game against either Purdue or Michigan on the road, I think they are a lock to earn the double-bye for the tournament. Until those games are played, though, I would hold off for the Thursday games, but you can definitely forget about Wednesday. The Buckeyes are going to earn a first round-bye.