Superlatives For Chris Holtmann's First Ohio State Squad

By James Grega on March 19, 2018 at 10:10 am
Jae'Sean Tate

The men's basketball season is over in Columbus, but what a season it was.

Ohio State's season came to an end Saturday night with a heartbreaking 90-84 loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but the Buckeyes accomplished more in Chris Holtmann's first year than many expected them to.

To recap, Ohio State finished second in the Big Ten, collected conference player and coach of the year honors, and won a pair of games against top-five teams in the country to help vault themselves to a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance. 

With the season now over, it is time for us to hand out our own postseason awards as we reflect on the amazing run the 2017-18 Buckeyes had. 

Top Moment

While our own Kevin Harrish ranked the top-five moments for Ohio State yesterday, I have one of my own that I think tops them all. 

Following a blowout win over Rutgers on Senior Night, Jae'Sean Tate was the final Buckeye to take the microphone as the four Ohio State veterans all addressed the fans after a win. 

Tate repeatedly said, perhaps to himself, that he wasn't going to cry, but as he got around to thanking Ohio State's first-year coaching staff, he couldn't help but tear up. What happened next, is what I will remember most from the 2017-18 season, as Tate's entire team ran to embrace him, embodying in one moment what Tate meant to the Ohio State program and perhaps more importantly, what Ohio State meant to Tate. 

Tate was of course emotional in the postgame locker room after Ohio State's loss to Gonzaga, but kept things in perspective as well. He, along with Keita Bates-Diop, Kam Williams and Andrew Dakich set the bar high for the Holtmann era in Columbus, something the entire group I am sure is proud of. 

Top Play

When you have a season like Ohio State did, there are going to be endless amounts of candidates for the top play of the year. Ones that immediately come to mind are Tate's thunderous one-handed slam at home against Michigan, Bates-Diop's put-back winner against Purdue and Kam Williams' four-point play against South Dakota State, but my nomination for the year's top play goes to Andrew Dakich for his halftime heave against Michigan State. 

At that time in the year, the expectations for Ohio State's season were still relatively low. The Buckeyes were 3-0 in the Big Ten, but the No. 1 team in the nation was rolling into Columbus, and many thought OSU would do well to just keep the game close. 

Instead, the Buckeyes blew the doors off of the Spartans, 80-64, highlighted by a halftime buzzer-beater from the least likely source. 

It was at that moment where I turned to a fellow media member on press row with a look as if to say, 'They might actually pull this off.'

Little did I know I was talking about a potential Big Ten title and not just a win over the nation's top team. That shot propelled Ohio State to a victory over Michigan State, but perhaps more importantly gave them confidence that they could beat anyone in the country. 

Biggest Surprise

While Dakich's production and role on the team might belong here, I am going with Kaleb Wesson in this spot because of what he meant to the starting lineup on this roster. 

After filling in for Micah Potter in late November, Wesson never relinquished the starting job as he remained ultra-consistent, averaging 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game as a freshman, building for what should be a monster 2018-19 season for the Westerville, Ohio native. 

His ability to play with his back to the basket, but also to hit an outside jumper, makes him one of Ohio State's top returning offensive threats for next season (assuming Bates-Diop goes pro), and perhaps even a dark horse contender for conference player of the year. 

Most Improved Player

A number of things could be used to describe Bates-Diop this season. He is Ohio State's most valuable player, most improved player, the 'X'-factor, etc. What he did in the 2017-18 season for Ohio State, considering he missed almost his entire junior year, is remarkable and shouldn't be taken lightly. 

Bates-Diop wasn't even named to a preseason all-Big Ten list, yet by the time the dust settled on the year, he was the conference player of the year and had his team six minutes from a Sweet 16 appearance. 

While he wasn't one to show much emotion on or off the floor, make no mistake about it: Bates-Diop came to play every night. Even when Ohio State's loss to Gonzaga was in hand in the final seconds, he drilled a near-half court shot at the buzzer to pull the Buckeyes to within six to close the game out. 

Bates-Diop went from averaging less than 10 points per game for his career to averaging nearly 20 (19.8), setting himself up to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Should he decide to leave, he will have forever made his mark on Ohio State hoops, much like the rest of the 2017-18 squad. 

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