Ohio State is at the top of the Big Ten for a number of reasons this season.
For starters, the Buckeyes have received consistent and dominant play from redshirt junior Keita Bates-Diop, as the Normal, Ill., native is the favorite to win Big Ten Player of the Year in 2017-18. In addition, the elevated play of unexpected contributors like Andrew Dakich and Musa Jallow have given Ohio State critical boosts in crunch time all season.
The play of them and the rest of the Buckeyes, however, always seems to come back to one thing that has nothing to do with their basketball talent, as Micah Potter highlighted following an 82-64 thrashing of Iowa on Saturday night.
"There are no egos on this team. Like Andre (Wesson) has been stepping up big time since Kam (Williams) has been out," Potter said. "Us on the bench, our job is to keep things going and keep the energy up, whether that be scoring, playing defense or whatever it is."
Potter has been a good example of a player who does not appear to have his own personal agenda, but could certainly be upset about how his role has changed this season. The sophomore center started the first four games of the season for the Buckeyes before an injury against Northeastern sidelined him for nearly a month, as Kaleb Wesson emerged as a consistent and sometimes dominant presence in the post. While Potter has yet to return to the starting lineup, he has found ways to make an impact this season.
Potter led the Buckeyes in scoring in a 71-65 win on the road against Northwestern on Jan. 17, as he connected on all five of his shots from the floor, finishing with 13 points off the bench. He scored 10 points against Iowa on Saturday, and Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery said after the loss that the Buckeyes' camaraderie is often what stands out about Chris Holtmann's squad.
“There are no egos on this team.”– Micah Potter
"Different personnel makes a big difference. That team is connected," McCaffery said. "They have the right attitude, they share the ball. They put winning above everything else."
McCaffery made a point to single out senior forward Jae'Sean Tate in his postgame comments as one of the better players not only on Ohio State, but in the Big Ten.
"I think one of the underrated players in our league is Tate, and I have said that before. I am a big fan of his," McCaffery said. "He is one of those guys that was good when he got here, but keeps getting better every year."
The unquestioned emotional leader of the Buckeyes for the majority of his time at Ohio State, Tate has earned mention for his efforts from other Big Ten coaches throughout his four years in postgame press conferences. Despite being his coach for only one season, Holtmann joked on his radio show last week that he would "drive to the Big Ten offices" if Tate didn't earn some sort of all-conference award at the end of the season.
Holtmann said Tate's willingness to be the ultimate team player is part of what has made this season so special for Ohio State.
"He does so much for his team. I love him. I love all of our guys, but I can't say enough (about Tate)," Holtmann said after beating Iowa.
Holtmann went on to tell a brief story about Tate, who after his classmate Bates-Diop had a career game, embraced the Big Ten POY candidate in a moment of pure elation.
"Keita has 35 the other night against Illinois and there is a clip at the end of the game where Jae'Sean Tate is bear-hugging him with a huge grin on his face," Holtmann said. "If that doesn't speak to who that young man is and what he really cares about. He is so excited for his teammate and the kind of night he had.
"At a day in age where he could maybe be a little envious of Keita busting onto the scene, I haven't caught wind of that one time. That is who he is," Holtmann continued. "It was the most genuine moment and said so much about Jae'Sean and what he cares about. All he cares about is winning, and he really loves the fact his teammate had a big night. It was just another visible reminder to me of who he is."
Should Tate and the Buckeyes continue to play with the continuity they are playing with now, there is a good chance Ohio State could be crowned conference champs by season's end.