Tom Izzo knows what it takes to win a national championship. He believes Chris Holtmann has what it takes to do the same.
Ohio State lost 14 of 15 games during a stretch in the second half of last season, which made many people – analysts and fans alike – question Holtmann's job security. But the Buckeyes finished the year with five wins in their final seven games, and Izzo thinks Holtmann being able to keep the team back on track will pay dividends in the near future, including a possible Final Four berth and national championship.
"I think you've done a hell of a job there and it's not an easy job," Izzo said during an appearance on Holtmann’s podcast, More Than Coach Speak. "You're at a school where football is so big and yet, you're starting to blend it. That's what I did (at Michigan State). Football and basketball can coexist together. ... You're a big part of the consistency and you did not crumble last year through a tough 5-6 weeks. That is maybe the best thing you did and you just won't realize it until four or five years from now when you're in a Final Four winning a national championship. You'll look back at that one and say 'wow.'"
Although Ohio State struggled last season, the Buckeyes won at least 20 games in each of Holtmann's first five seasons in Columbus. The head coach led OSU to the NCAA Tournament in four of his first five seasons at Ohio State dating back to 2017, with the only other year being 2020 when the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID.
Given the Buckeyes' consistency on the hardwood with Holtmann leading the charge, Izzo believes that Holtmann's future is bright in Columbus, especially with guys like Bruce Thornton at point guard.
Izzo compared Thornton to one of his former stars at Michigan State, Mateen Cleaves, who led Michigan State to a national championship and won the 2000 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Thornton (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) has similar measurables to Cleaves, a three-time consensus All-American and two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, and Izzo thinks they have similar skill sets, too.
"You've got a pretty good point guard yourself that can get it up the court and I've got a feeling you're going to be pushing even more than you have because he's pretty damn good and he's even built like Cleaves and he's got a lot of great qualities," Izzo said.
The 51st-ranked player (No. 10 point guard) in the 2022 class, Thornton was expected to contribute as a true freshman. That said, he not only became Ohio State's starting point guard, but he was also named a team captain midway through the season. After admitting to hitting a freshman wall on the first day of February, Thornton only improved the rest of the season, becoming a "foundational piece" for the Buckeyes, one that Holtmann can lean on, both in the box score and as a leader. Izzo believes that having players like that is vital for success, especially during the one-and-done era.
"You recruit guys that you are going to have three and four years," Izzo said. "Which means, early on, when I had Mateen Cleaves, I realized that a player-coached team is much better than a coach-coached team.
"98% of us (me, you, Matt Painter) have had success with some good players but we're not usually getting the Kentucky and Duke players," he said. "I mean, let's be honest about it. But I think sometimes that works to your advantage because you get a chance to build a culture."
Whether it be at Michigan State or Ohio State, Izzo believes the key to success is to build a roster of players who are bought into the team’s success and want to be developed, especially in the age of NIL and the transfer portal.
"The great players want to be coached," Izzo said. "The great players want to be coached to the ultimate limit.
"If you want to win championships and you want to be an elite player, I think that it hasn't changed as much as people think. I don't think players have changed as much. The people around them have changed. The parents, the adults, the media, the agents, they're the ones that changed and cause the problems."