COLUMBUS — Chris Holtmann still wants to see more from this Ohio State team.
The No. 4 team in the country, rolling to six straight wins and nine of its last 10 games, is playing at a level few other teams are right now. This late in the season, the Buckeyes are positioning themselves well for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But Holtmann, as meticulous as he is, still wants to see the Buckeyes take another step forward — in more than one area.
“I think we’ve got to continue to grow,” Holtmann said. “The biggest thing as a coach right now is we’ve got to get better in the moment that any type of complacency comes in. In practice, it needs to be addressed.
“We’ve got to continue to get better and we’ve got to stay fully engaged as a group from scout team on down. I think that’s the biggest challenge.”
Ohio State has stayed hot since the turn of the new year, and it’s in large part due to a group effort from a deep roster of stars and role players. Lettermen Row is breaking down three Buckeyes who are playing some of their best basketball right now.
F Kyle Young
Kyle Young has always been a consistent role player for Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State teams. He’s a scrapper, a fantastic rebounder, a good defender and a capable offensive role player. He seems to be taking his game to the next level this season, especially lately.
Young has posted double-digit scoring in three of his last five games, an offensive stretch that has only happened one other time during his Buckeyes career. To add to his continuous improvement on the offensive end, he’s rebounding at the highest rate of his career and still playing the kind of defense that has made him a headache in the Big Ten for four seasons.
Young seems to be everything Chris Holtmann wants in a four-year role player at Ohio State. If the senior leader continues to play well and add in scoring when those opportunities come, Ohio State has a chance to make a deep run next month in the NCAA Tournament.
F Zed Key
Zed Key has played a role in nearly every game this season, and as he gains more experience through the final month of his freshman season, he’s beginning to show more confidence and ability.
Key had eight points and seven rebounds while defending National Player of the Year frontrunner Luka Garza when the Buckeyes beat Iowa last week. He has continued to play well on both ends of the floor while providing a physical presence in the paint against some of the best big men in the league, a valuable role for Chris Holtmann’s team. After playing in all 21 of Ohio State’s games this season, it’s hard to still classify Key as a freshman. He has experience. The 6-foot-8 power forward had one of his best games of the season with six points, eight rebounds and five offensive rebounds in the win over Indiana on Saturday.
As the Buckeyes prepare to face some of the conference’s best teams before entering the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, Key could be a huge factor for Ohio State success.
F E.J. Liddell
Ohio State goes as E.J. Liddell goes — kind of. The Buckeyes are accustomed to receiving a steady scoring effort from their star forward every night; Liddell averages 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. But even when Liddell struggles to score and create offense, the Buckeyes are able to still find ways to win, just like they did when the forward had just seven points against Maryland last week.
Even while he was held to single-digit scoring for just the fourth time this season, Liddell had six rebounds and three blocks to help the winning effort. And against Indiana a couple days later, Liddell was back to being one of the best scoring options in the Big Ten, dropping 19 points on the Hoosiers and fueling the Buckeyes blowout. The sophomore rising star impacts games by doing much more than just scoring, and when he’s playing well, Ohio State is one of the toughest teams in the country to hang with.