Basketball

Ohio State men’s basketball no longer has room for error

Ohio State men's basketball player Malaki Branham

We have been here before.

In fact, we’ve been here every season since 2013. That’s the last time the Ohio State men’s basketball team won a regular season conference title, a conference tournament title or past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Like Thad Matta before him, Chris Holtmann has been chasing that level of success ever since. And it is important to contextualize this success; from 2009 to 2013, the Buckeyes won the conference regular season title three times, the conference tournament three times, and finished at least in the Sweet Sixteen every year (making the Final Four in 2012). Ohio State hadn’t made the Elite Eight in consecutive years since the 1960s, but they did during this run.

It’s probably not going to be replicated any time soon. For one thing, the Big Ten is more competitive than it has been in a long time, and two, Ohio State is less competitive. Chris Holtmann’s job issue is an argument for another day, but that only makes the impending playoffs all the more important for him and an Ohio State team in dire need of help. a kind of prestige.

And prestige is struggling to impose itself after an intermittently disappointing regular season! The Buckeyes may have avoided a skid with an upset win over Michigan State, but the punchline of losses to Maryland and Nebraska means even a final regular-season win over an equally baffling Michigan team Wolverines probably won’t be enough. declare the 2021-22 regular season a true accomplishment.

So what’s left? Well, the odds of Ohio State getting a two-game reprieve in the Big Ten tournament still exist, but are fleetingly low. But damn it, last year’s Buckeye team knows that a nice, comfortable seeding isn’t a guarantee of safety in a knockout tournament situation anyway.

There is no more room for error.

One of the benefits of college sports is being able to watch the development of a team of raw talent players, as they benefit from both experience and practice in real time. To see the emergence of a Malaki Branham, for example, is thrilling not only because it is unexpected, but because it represents the potential for greatness. It’s part of what allows us to watch the ups and downs of the regular season, even through incredibly stupid losses to 15-point underdogs. The idea that at some point it will all come together into something really special.

The Ohio State Buckeyes might not be there. Available personnel and inconsistent overall team play could keep them out of season-ending tournament time, but It’s March. EJ Liddell must continue to perform at a ridiculously high level. Branham can’t afford to have a night’s rest. Zed Key and Kyle Young should be healthy and playing well. Joey Brunk…might need to contribute like he did against Michigan State (okay, yeah, that one is weird)? If Holtmann and company are going to merge into something special, now is the only time the team might have in general.

It’s probably not news to casual Buckeyes watchers, but this season is different. In his fifth year as Ohio State head coach, Chris Holtmann’s teams nearly cut the nets exactly once, in last season’s Big Ten tournament where they lost a tight championship game to Illinois in overtime. This is no longer enough. Even with an excellent recruiting class for freshmen, there is more pressure than ever for Holtmann to provide some sort of material to Columbus.

Achieving this is no longer a nice bonus after a successful season. With that kind of talent, that’s the only indicator of one.