An Unexpectedly Strong Finish Sees Holtmann and Company Improving Over Last Season

By Johnny Ginter on March 7, 2020 at 11:05 am
Ohio State men's basketball player Andre Wesson

There are basically three things that people remember about any particular basketball or football season at Ohio State.

One: how the team performs in rivalry games. In football this is obviously a bigger deal than in basketball, but Evan Turner making Michigan pay for not bothering to guard him at all is something that I'll draw sweet, sweet schadenfreude from for years to come. It's fun to beat the Wolverines and I guess (insert deep, heaving sigh here) the Nittany Lions and maybe even the Spartans, and those games stick out in our collective psyche as a fanbase for a very long time.

Two: how badly the Buckeyes beat up on the assorted refuse of the rest of college athletics. Sustained success, especially in football, has given Ohio State fans the impression that every team not named Alabama or Clemson should be ground into a fine talc and used to powder the bottoms of none but the classiest and richest infants in the United States. I remember covering Ohio State beating the holy hell out of Eastern Michigan in 2010 and watching defensive coordinator Jim Heacock ashamedly attempt to explain why his squad gave up 20 points in a game that saw the Buckeyes win by 53. It was silly and weird, but part of me was kind of pissed about it, too.

Three: how the Buckeyes finish.

The thing about rooting for Ohio State football and men's basketball is that you start to develop the impression that the entire regular season is ultimately just prologue for the real season to start. Of course football should beat Michigan and win the Big Ten and go on to the playoff, that's the expectation every single year, and anything less is a disappointment. But that also means that what actually matters is championship season, and the prior dozen or so games were really just the predictable opening act for just a few games of the unexpected.

This is the case in football, anyway. Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, and now Ryan Day have set that bar and there's no dropping it.

But in men's basketball? Well...

This is where things get interesting. I'm not exactly sure what our collective expectations are for Ohio State men's basketball at the end of the season, but to be clear, I love that. If football is a waiting game to anxiously hope the Buckeyes get through a regular season unscathed, then men's basketball is basically kind of a crapshoot where pretty much anything is possible.

We've spilled a lot of ink in the Buckeyeverse talking about this rollercoaster season, but in truth the only reason why we've done so is because the strong finish of the 2019-2020 squad means that there's something possibly pretty kickass to look forward to.


In the final 20 games of the 2018-2019 season before the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes went 7-13 and lost to seven ranked teams (including Michigan) in the process. Listless in the Big Ten tournament, there was no real hope there; while they scored an unlikely upset of Iowa State in the first round of the NCAAs, there was no hype, no excitement around that team leading up to March Madness. Losing to Houston ended the season with a perfunctory thud, and that was that.

2019-2020 is different. While both this season's team and last year's squad faced midseason adversity, Holtmann's team has rediscovered some early-season momentum and generated some hype for themselves.

And it's deserved; their recent win against Michigan was as fun and exciting as any Ohio State men's basketball game has been in a long time, and they were able to convincingly take out a ranked Illinois team despite shooting like complete ass. Beat Michigan State on Sunday and make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament and all of a sudden the Buckeyes are looking like a very solid 4th or 3rd seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The true pleasure in watching a team gain meaningful, watchable momentum in the latter half of the season (especially after a lull) is that every game has meaning. If Ohio State loses to Sparty, I'm going to be upset, but that's vastly preferable to not feeling anything at all.

The Ohio State men's basketball team has won nine of their last eleven games, which is the exact opposite of what anyone watching this team would've expected in late December and January. That's a testament to the Buckeye players and coaches, and it's also a hallmark of the kind of team that I know I'll have an enormous amount of fun watching for as long as they continue to play.

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