Ohio State still has a conference tournament to play, but regardless of when and if the Buckeyes are bounced in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend, Chris Holtmann's squad is facing a significant layoff between now and the start of the NCAA Tournament.
In order to secure Madison Square Garden – which is traditionally reserved for the Big East the week before the NCAA's – the Big Ten moved its conference tournament up a week, setting up a scenario in which all of its teams will be off for more than a week before the Big Dance.
At the beginning of the year, the extended layoff wasn't expected to be an issue for Ohio State, yet the Buckeyes have surprised everyone by rattling off a 24-7, 15-3 record in the regular season and earning a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. While Holtmann and his coaching staff are busy preparing for Friday's quarterfinal matchup against either Penn State or Northwestern, the Buckeye head coach is also tasked with planning ahead in order to keep his team sharp for what could be as much as a two-week layoff between games.
Holtmann said Wednesday that he talked to former Butler coach and current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens earlier in the week, to gain some insight into how to handle the extended break. While at Butler from 2007-2013, Stevens coached in the Horizon League for five seasons, before Butler moved to the Atlantic 10 for the 2012-13 campaign in his final year with the Bulldogs. Both of those leagues played their conference tournaments a week prior to the "power" conferences, yet Stevens had great success.
Stevens led the Bulldogs to five NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons, including back-to-back national championship game losses in 2010 and 2011. While Holtmann didn't dive into specifics, he said he learned a fair amount from Stevens and has an idea of how he will approach the layoff.
"I talked to Brad Stevens. I talked to him yesterday. He actually called me and we were talking about a few other things and he gave me some good ideas and good thoughts from when they were in the Horizon League and their tournament was around this time of year," Holtmann said. "I did pick his brain on that, and he did give me some good ideas that – I don't know if they're the difference between winning and losing – but good ideas moving forward."
By the time Holtmann took over at Butler in 2014-15, the Bulldogs had moved to the Big East, which played its conference tournament the final week of the season prior to the NCAA's. Holtmann did have one year of experience with a drastic layoff at Gardner-Webb in 2012-13, but that was for the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
Holtmann said he expects to create multiple game-type situations in practice leading up to the NCAA Tournament in order to keep his team sharp during the layoff. He added, though, that the Buckeyes are first and foremost focused on making a run in the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden, a place Holtmann went 0-3 during his time at Butler in the Big East Tournament.
"It's something I will dig into after this tournament gets over with, whenever that is, and spend some more time (on it)," Holtmann said. "We will have a plan in place where we will give guys ample time (off) but will also do a lot of live stuff in practice. We will do some scrimmaging in practice. Significant amounts of scrimmaging. I think that is really our best chance at keeping guys sharp.
"I don't know what kind of factor it is going to have, but we are going to try to do everything we can to keep that balance."