Five Things: Wrapping Up Year Two of the Holtmann Era With an Eye on Year Three

By Chris Lauderback on March 28, 2019 at 11:05 am
Chris Holtmann coaches up Kaleb Wesson.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A dicey, roller-coaster of a season ended for Ohio State's basketball team last Sunday  night with a loss to No. 3 seed Houston in the NCAA's Round of 32, throwing a 20-15 record on the ole tombstone including a 9-13 mark against conference foes. 

Earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament felt like an overachievement considering the mix of talent and inexperience while beating No. 6 seed Iowa State in the opening round was icing on the cake. 

Head coach Chris Holtmann was playing with a bit of house money in this his second season at the helm after his inaugural squad reached the second round the Dance with significantly more proven talent than the 2018-19 crew. 

That said, expectations for next season will increase dramatically as Holtmann's young talent enjoyed some seasoning this year and he welcomes in a trio of elite prospects in D.J. Carton, EJ Liddell and Alonzo Gaffney this summer, among other additions. 

Before looking ahead to higher expectations next year, here are Five Things from what should be the last season of largely mediocre basketball for the foreseeable future in Columbus. 


C.J. Jackson was a pretty polarizing player during his time in scarlet and gray. The reality is the kid was forced to play at least one spot above target rotational duties thanks to point guard attrition during his time in Columbus and in response to that, the transfer from Eastern Florida State CC junior college gave all he could to the program. 

Forced to shoulder more of a burden than expected, Jackson was the team's second-leading scorer, led the team in assists, shot 38% from beyond the arc against Big Ten foes and never shied away from taking a big shot even if the results weren't always spectacular. 

Having said that, with Jackson running the offense, Ohio State tied for 12th in the Big Ten with 12.7 turnover per game as Jackson coughed it up at least three times in 12 of 35 total games. At times, his shaky handles disrupted his vision and hurt his ability to initiate and control the offense. 

It would be wrong to suggest he was solely responsible for any specific issue within Ohio State's sometimes-impotent offense but it also be wrong to suggest the Buckeyes don't need to improve at the point guard spot if they want to be a conference contender. 

The hope is that D.J. Carton's arrival, C.J. Walker's eligibility restored after sitting out his transfer season and Luther Muhammad's experience this past season can help elevate the position. 


The just-discussed point guard play hamstrung Ohio State's offense at times but again, a plethora of factors cut the offense off at the knees and drastic improvement in the points production department must be realized next season. 

Ohio State ranked No. 13 out of 14 Big Ten teams with 64.6 points per game, slotted No. 12 in field goal percentage (41.0%) and No. 13 in three-point field goal percentage at 32.1%. 

Those dreadful numbers contributed to five games in which the offense failed to exceed 57 points including outputs of 44 against Michigan State, 49 versus Michigan, 50 against a very bad Northwestern squad and 51 at Purdue. 

Kaleb Wesson missing games via suspension or simply not playing enough or having to play too tentatively due to foul trouble hurt the offense. 

Senior Keyshawn Woods failing to show up for the extended middle of the season, book-ended by a solid start and even better finish, despite averaging the third-most minutes per game was a factor. Even with his awesome finish, Woods shot 22% from beyond the arc in Big Ten regular season play. 

Freshman wing Duane Washington Jr. flashed promise as a guy who could shoot it from deep and get his own shot but also struggled from distance shooting 26% from deep against Big Ten opponents while leading the team in three-point tries. He'll be fine over the long haul but the struggle was real. 

Junior Andre Wesson actually carried the team for a stretch but came back to Earth shooting just 31% from distance in the Big Ten regular season while launching the third-most attempts. 

A more effective offense creating better looks / higher percentage shots is a must for 2019-20. 


Kaleb Wesson was easily the best player on this year's team but was often his own worst enemy. 

A true sophomore, Wesson's mental approach to the game didn't take as big of a leap as was needed as evidenced by a team-leading 2.3 turnovers per game despite averaging the fifth-most minutes per game. 

He also struggled mightily in adjusting to officiating and often picked up early fouls through unnecessary plays such as hedging way too aggressively on the perimeter, succumbing to frustration or allowing opponents to bait him into poor decisions. 

During a 14-game stretch from mid-December to mid-February, Wesson fouled out of five contests and racked up four fouls in six others. 

Off-court decision-making led to a four-game suspension down the stretch as Ohio State was fighting to stay off the NCAA Tournament bubble. 

To his credit, Wesson returned strong from his suspension averaging 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds to round out the season. 

In Big Ten regular season play, Wesson ranked 18th in the league with 13.1 points per game and 17th with 6.5 rebounds per night. Solid numbers to be sure but the production felt like a bit of underachievement. 

How committed Wesson is to being great and improving his self-discipline will go a long way in determining the outcome of Ohio State's 2019-20 campaign. So will whether or not Holtmann and company can acquire/develop some help in the pivot and on the wings to reduce the volume of double-teams. Wesson has the talent to carry a team especially if a couple of the other guys on the floor have scoring talent opponents have no choice but to respect. 


Freshman guard Luther Muhammad made a mark as an aggressive, lengthy defender and a willing scorer over the first ~40% of the season but wow did the wheels fall off late. 

Targeting the first nine games once the calendar flipped to 2019, Muhammad averaged 32.1 minutes and 11.4 points on a spectacular 46.9% mark from distance with a modest 17 assists and 10 steals against 14 turnovers. 

But then he hit a wall. I'm still not sure if it was freshman fatigue, lost confidence once things started going south, the eventual emergence of of Woods, something else, or a combo of all of it. 

Over the final 13 games, Muhammad averaged just 20.9 minutes and 3.4 points via a clanky 11-of-62 shooting display (17.8%) with 18 turnovers and nine steals. Muhammad failed to make at least two field goals in 10 of the 13 games. To his credit, attitude nor effort seemed to falter but the production evaporated. 

I remain extremely high on Muhammad and the successes and setbacks from this season should only help him as the Buckeyes move forward but there's no question Holtmann needs improved consistency from Luther as the program moves forward. 


While I think Ohio State overachieved a touch this year, I can't go as far as some acting as if Holtmann pulled off a miracle just by making the tournament. That said, the Big Ten was tough and make no mistake, I'm a huge Holtmann fan and believer. 

Looking back, Ohio State only pulled what could be considered as three mild upsets, beating Cincinnati as a 4.5-point underdog, winning at Nebraska as a 7-point dog and turning back Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament as 5.5-point dog. 

On the other side of the ledger, the Buckeyes lost to Syracuse as a 4.5-point favorite, at Rutgers as a 5.5-point favorite, to Maryland at home as a 3.5-point favorite and to Illinois as an 8-point favorite. 

The development of guys such as Kaleb, Luther and Duane saw some fits and starts and you have to give Holtmann and his staff a ton of credit for how the team hung together and fought like hell especially during and after the 1-6 record in January and throughout Wesson's four-game suspension. 

The team's refusal to quit is probably what sticks out most to me from a 20-win but 15-loss season. 

Overall, I salute Holtmann, his staff and the players for hanging in there during such a topsy-turvy season but the reality is this year was never going to make or break Holtmann's tenure. The real pressure starts next year as he welcomes in some elite talent from the first recruiting class that is solely influenced by his head coaching presence. 

I'm bullish on what lies ahead but there's no question the expectations are ratcheting up as well. 

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