If you've been around these parts for awhile, you know I've been critical at times of what Chris Holtmann's program has accomplished over his first five years at the helm of the basketball Buckeyes.
That's not to say his program is without accomplishments, that simply wouldn't be accurate. Five 20-win seasons, NCAA Tournament-worthy resumes every year and some big wins against high-caliber competition aren't easy feats.
That said, four straight regular season conference finishes between 4th and 8th place, zero conference titles, averaging nearly 12 losses per season and failing to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament shouldn't be overlooked either.
After another late-season swoon ended the 2022 season with a whimper, I wrote there was absolutely zero reason to think Holtmann should be relieved of his duties but it was time to put up or shut up.
It's okay to have high expectations for the basketball program.
I'm not talking unrealistically high. I'm talking be a legit factor in the Big Ten regular season or postseason title races every few years and make a run to the Sweet Sixteen or better on a similar cadence. I have to believe Holtmann has similar goals for his program. He's a quality guy and a quality coach - I'm guessing he didn't achieve both those things without being his harshest critic and setting challenging goals.
Since the end of the season, my sense is positive vibrations are reverberating in Columbus.
By all accounts Ryan Pedon was a top-flight assistant but both he and Tony Skinn moved on paving the way for Jake Diebler to take on a much-deserved expanded role as Holtmann's associate head coach while Jack Owens joined as an assistant with five years of head coaching experience at Miami (Ohio). Mike Netti moves from a special assistant role to Holtmann to an assistant coach. Holtmann backfilled Netti's role by hiring Nick Kellogg as assistant to the head coach and director of scouting.
A staff shake-up felt like a necessary thing and I'm most excited to see what Diebler can do with the offense after overseeing the defense last season and what Kellogg can do in his hometown.
After struggling on the transfer market in previous seasons, Holtmann and staff appear to have strengthened their work in the portal this time around. They weren't able to land Nigel Pack but Sean McNeil arrived via West Virginia after scoring 12.2 points per game on 37% from deep a year ago, Tanner Holden committed to OSU after pouring in 20.1 points per game for Wright State and Oklahoma State transfer Isaac Likekele gives the team a versatile, experienced piece that can play multiple positions including the point, which could prove important as true freshman Bruce Thornton assimilates to the college game.
We'll see if the transfer trio can make a huge impact next season but the odds they will certainly feel stronger than that of past transfer pieces under Holtmann.
As for roster incumbents, I love hearing Zed Key talk about the program approaching summer workouts in a more serious manner and having a chip on its shoulder, noting many are counting out the Buckeyes. What I don't love is still being unclear on if/when Justice Sueing could be ready knowing his scoring punch and leadership will be needed. Of course, Gene Brown and Seth Towns are still in Columbus too.
Turning over 10 players in one offseason, including E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham, is wild to think about even in the new age of college basketball. That said, I'd argue the team was in dire need of new blood outside of the two NBA Draft picks and Kyle Young.
And that new blood comes in the form of the nation's No. 6 recruiting class led by 247's No. 43 overall prospect Roddy Gayle, Thornton (No. 44), Felix Okpara (No. 59), Brice Sensabaugh (No. 62) and Bowen Hardman (No. 305).
Sensabaugh might be the 4th-highest ranked guy of the five but the 6-foot-6 bucket getter recently put up 51 points in the Kingdom League flashing three-level scoring ability Ohio State can use from day one. Similarly, Thornton should have an opportunity to show he can facilitate the offense while creating his own offense when needed.
With minutes galore up for grabs, competition should be fierce among what seems to be a bunch of legitimately good dudes.
Holtmann's success on the recruiting trail hasn't stopped with the 2022 class as his two verbals so far for 2023 feature shooting guard George Washington III (No. 62 overall) and Austin Parks, a traditional 6-foot-9 post currently slotted No. 108 in 247's rankings. Those two give Ohio State the No. 8 ranked class and Holtmann figures to have a real good shot at landing a couple more top-100 guys.
Scotty Middleton, the nation's 36th-ranked prospect had Ohio State in his top-five and will announce his intentions early next month. The 6-foot-7 wing would be a gigantic get for Holtmann and there's seemingly reason for optimism at this point.
Holtmann is also very much interested in a couple local kids with elite talent in Pickerington Central's Devin Royal (6-foot-6, No. 76) and Africentric's Dailyn Swain (6-foot-6, No. 78).
It remains to be seen if Holtmann can get the 2022-23 Buckeyes over the hump but the positive offseason momentum is real and for now, I'll take it.