Chris Holtmann needs no reminder of how Jay Wright teams play.
In his first of three years at Butler, his team lost by 12 points to Villanova on the road then lost by three at home. The next year, the Bulldogs lost by five points to the Wildcats at home before falling by 10 later in the season.
“They beat us pretty good our first couple years at Butler, pretty consistently,” Holtmann said on Tuesday afternoon.
|No. 10 Villanova||Schottenstein Center||7 p.m.||FS1|
Finally, in his third year, Holtmann’s team found success. Butler upset top-ranked Villanova, 66-58, at home then beat the second-ranked Wildcats, 74-66, on the road a month-and-a-half later.
For the first time since that pair of Butler victories in early 2017, Holtmann and Wright will face off on Wednesday night when 16th-ranked Ohio State plays host to 10th-ranked Villanova. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center and be shown on Fox Sports 1.
“Villanova's always one of the soundest and toughest teams physically and certainly mentally that I've ever prepared to play,” Holtmann said. “They do not get shook in any way, ever. Their teams play with incredible poise. We thought game one was physical. They are a really physical bunch.”
After wins against Cincinnati and UMass Lowell, the Buckeyes have a chance to make their most impressive statement yet.
Amid a tough non-conference schedule that also features upcoming games against No. 1 Kentucky, No. 6 North Carolina and West Virginia, Villanova is the first of three top-10 teams they’ll face. And, unlike the three other marquee non-conference games in the next month-and-a-half, Wednesday night’s matchup will take place at the Schottenstein Center.
“To (play) a team of this caliber, it's a great thing,” Holtmann said. “I mean, it's great for our program. I know in the past, there have been tremendous programs that have come through here. But to have that this early in the year at home is just tremendous. I know our guys are excited. I hope Buckeye Nation is excited.”
Though both Holtmann and Wright have a high degree of familiarity, having coached six games against each other, the teams that take the court on Wednesday night will have key differences from those that competed against each other a few years ago.
When looking at this year’s Villanova team, which starts four underclassmen and one junior, overall length stands out to Holtmann.
“The thing that makes them a little bit different than Nova teams that I've competed against in the past is their size,” Holtmann said. “At times, they'll put five guys out there who are 6-8 or bigger, or at least 6-4, 6-8, 6-8, 6-9. They have tremendous size, length and versatility, particularly at the two through the five spots.”
Even the starting point guard, Collin Gillespie, stands 6-foot-3. Villanova’s length will especially matter on Wednesday because Andre Wesson remains out with an eye injury, likely forcing Ohio State to rely on more three-guard lineups that it would prefer.
In Holtmann’s mind, the Buckeyes won’t be able to just dump it down low to Kaleb Wesson.
“They're great – not good – they are elite at keeping the ball out of the post. Elite,” Holtmann said. “They're an elite defensive team, but they're elite at keeping the ball out of the post. Even when you think you have a mismatch, they're tremendous at it. “
The Wildcats, who beat Army 97-54 in their only game this season, lost Phil Booth (18.6 points, 3.6 assists) and Eric Paschall (16.5 points, 6.1 rebounds) in the offseason but signed the fifth-ranked 2019 recruiting class in the country. Five-star guard signee Bryan Antoine won’t play on Wednesday as he recovers from shoulder surgery, but five-star forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will play a major factor. He led Villanova with 24 points and 13 rebounds in the win against Army.
“Their freshman big is really good,” Holtmann said. “Really good.”
Among the returners, Gillespie averaged 10.9 points and 2.8 assists per game last year. Saddiq Bey, a sophomore forward stepping into an increased offensive role this season, had 22 points and five rebounds against Army.
Bey was one of four players who hit at least four triples in the win versus Army.
“They're great at spreading you out,” Holtmann said. “They really put pressure on you to guard the line, and they attack outside-in. They also have big, physical wings that can drive it and post it this year.”
Ohio State Preview
The last time Wright faced off against a Holtmann-led team, he didn’t have to worry about Kaleb Wesson. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound center has a chance to be the biggest difference on Wednesday.
Wesson hasn’t had to be a dominant scorer in either of Ohio State’s first two games of the season, averaging 10.5 points and 12 rebounds between them, and there’s a chance he doesn’t need to go wild as a bucket-getter on Wednesday. But he’ll absolutely have a good bit of the offense run through him as a facilitating big man.
“I think that what we've got to do is the ball's got to move,” Holtmann said. “I think this is a game where, I said it going into last game, but if you thought of a prototypical game where we could honestly use not only Andre's brain, his mind, his toughness, but his length. This is certainly a game like that. We'll be smaller, significantly, at the wing spot than they are, and we'll have to counteract that in some ways.”
The Buckeyes turned heavily to three-guard lineups against UMass Lowell and will likely do the same versus Villanova, though they’ll face a team with much more length. It’ll be pertinent that Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad play under control.
Freshman point guard DJ Carton will also be playing under his brightest lights yet.
- Muhammad played at Hudson Catholic in New Jersey with Jahvon Quinerly, a guard who signed with Villanova in 2018. In the offseason, however, he transferred to Alabama. Muhammad: “It would've been fun playing against my old teammate, brother.” Had he talked to Quinerly to get some intel on Villanova? Muhammad on Tuesday: “No, but I will most definitely do that.”
- Ohio State and Villanova have only squared off three times, with the Buckeyes winning two of the matchups. They haven’t played since the 2003 Maui Invitational, when Ohio State won, 67-66.
- The Buckeyes have won both of their matchups in the Gavitt Games, beating Providence in 2016 and Creighton last season.
- Wright has gained a reputation as arguably the best dresser in college basketball. As Holtmann walked away from the podium after his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, he had one final comment: “I’ve realized if there’s one thing I can’t compete with Jay on, it’s dressing.”
- Students can get into this game for free with a BuckID.
How It Plays Out
Though the Wildcats have a higher ranking in the AP top-25 poll, and despite Andre Wesson’s absence, Ohio State enters Wednesday night’s game as a three-point favorite. That confidence in the Buckeyes speaks to the belief in Holtmann as a coach, Kaleb Wesson as an offensive facilitator and the rest of the team’s ability to play off of the big man.
Villanova’s length will make offense difficult for Ohio State, but with Wesson leading the offense, I’ll pick a slight Buckeyes victory. Confidence level in the prediction? Low.
Prediction: Ohio State 69, Villanova 68