The last time Ohio State made the NCAA Tournament, the program looked significantly different.
The Buckeyes were led by superstar freshman point guard D'Angelo Russell and head coach Thad Matta who was still fresh off his 298th win, making him the winningest coach in program history.
Fast forward to the 2017-18 season, Ohio State is set to return to the Big Dance for the first time since Russell's one-and-done campaign, but with very little NCAA Tournament experience on the roster.
Just three Ohio State players have experience playing in the tournament (not including Andrew Dakich), as Keita Bates-Diop, Jae'Sean Tate and Kam Williams were all freshmen during the 2014-15 season that saw the Buckeyes bounced in the second round by Arizona.
"I don't think I had a full understanding of how few of guys on our roster had played important roles on an NCAA Tournament team. That is kind of interesting for me. Andrew has been a part of teams, but hasn't played a whole lot in that setting like he is for us," head coach Chris Holtmann said Tuesday. "Kam, Keita and J.T. played roles, but it is much different now in what they are experiencing."
For reference, Bates-Diop played just nine minutes in his first NCAA Tournament game against VCU in the first round of the 2015 tournament, scoring six points in an overtime 75-72 victory. In that same game, then-redshirt freshman Kam Williams played just three minutes off the bench.
In the loss to Arizona two days later, Bates-Diop and Williams combined to play 14 minutes, with neither attempting a shot as Ohio State was bounced 73-58 in what would be its final tournament game in three years.
“Kam, Keita and J.T. played roles, but it is much different now in what they are experiencing.”– Chris Holtmann
The one player that did play significant minutes on that team that is still on the roster is Tate, who started both games for Ohio State, combining to score 19 points in the two contests.
This season, the roles for the Buckeye veteran trio are significantly different. Bates-Diop is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, averaging more than 30 minutes per game, with Tate providing the emotional spark for an Ohio State team that has surpassed expectations this season. Even Williams has grown into his role as a starter and scorer in recent weeks, scoring in double-digits in each of Ohio State's last three games.
For Tate especially however, Holtmann said the unquestioned leader of the team has to channel his emotions in a positive way in the tournament so that he can stay on the floor in crunch time. Tate was saddled with four fouls with just more than seven minutes to play in Ohio State's loss to Penn State in the conference tournament, which left him on the bench for nearly the rest of the game.
"It's a greatest strength, greatest weakness kind of thing that we all have. He has done a really good job of managing that. He has had moments where he has had some stuff he has had to deal with," Holtmann said, referencing Tate's tendency to commit unnecessary fouls out of emotion. "He is going to have to continue to not be reactionary in those moments and not add to the situation with a tough foul. At the same time, we wouldn't be where we are at with his emotion."
Even though Ohio State doesn't have the most experience in the NCAA Tournament, Holtmann said teams with other great intangibles can make a run in the Big Dance.
"Veteran teams that have experience really helps. That is not always the case, but I think that helps," Holtmann said. "Come tournament time (though), teams that are really sound in what they are doing offensively and defensively usually have success. Physically tough and tough minded teams are teams that have success."