COLUMBUS — The coach of the nation’s top-ranked team, per the all-new NCAA Evaluation Tool metrics, doesn’t want to hear any chatter about numbers.
Not unless it’s the areas Chris Holtmann is targeting for improvement for his Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0), who will honor former coach Thad Matta when they host Syracuse tonight at the Schottenstein Center in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Tip is 7:15 (ESPN2).
“People asked me about all kinds of numbers [Monday], this new whatever-it-is ranking, and the only numbers I’m concerned about are we’re No. 136 in turnover percentage and No. 154 in defensive rebounding percentage,” Holtmann said. “Those numbers are the only numbers I’m concerned about; those aren’t very good right now. And they’re symptomatic of a team that … that’s going to get us beat if we don’t do everything we can.
“It’s not like we’ve got incredible size or length, but we have to do a better job in those areas and I’ve got to do a better job coaching them.”
Holtmann wasn’t in the practice gym when backcourt leaders Keyshawn Woods and C.J. Jackson emphasized the Buckeyes had discussed little about their rankings, which included No. 16 in the latest AP Top 25, and focused on bringing a consistent effort each contest.
But the second-year coach properly assessed his team’s mindset.
“This group is level-headed enough to recognize that that’s not the case,” Holtmann said specifically of the top-slot billing in the NET Rankings, “and that the sample-size and all of that, I think they’re level-headed enough to recognize that that is what it is.”
However, a win against Syracuse, which has struggled offensively largely with point guard Frank Howard sidelined until last week’s game against Colgate, would mark a third quality victory after previous road-wins at Cincinnati and Creighton.
CLASSIC GAME LEADING INTO THE GAME?
Holtmann acknowledged that Ohio State officials have had discussions about bi-annually hosting their St. John Arena classic contest the Friday night prior to The Game on the gridiron between Michigan and Ohio State.
The contest was a hard sell-out last Friday as the Buckeyes moved to 6-0 with their win against Cleveland State.
“I thought it was a fantastic night and having it before The Game contributed to that,” Holtmann said. “I thought it was a great environment and tremendous night. We’ll evaluate where to go from here when it comes to St. John.
“We have had those discussions, yes. So every two years kind of making that Friday night [at St. John].”
PERSONAL FOR WOODS
Wake Forest graduate-transfer Keyshawn Woods made clear that this game against the Orange holds extra meaning for him. His Demon Deacons won just one of four games against Syracuse during Woods’ time in Winston-Salem, and he doesn’t even acknowledge the lone win because it came as Woods was injured last season.
“I just know for me, being an ACC opponent that I lost to, actually knocked us out of the (ACC) tournament last year, I kind of want this game a lot,” Woods said. “A lot. I really want this game.”
Holtmann, Jackson and Woods all singled out Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense as unlike anything else they have or likely will see on the court.
The Orange boast great length, with nine of their 11 players 6-foot-5 or taller, and also operate exclusively out of the confounding defensive set.
“Length, activity, the fact that it’s their base defense; most teams you face, it’s their secondary defense,” Holtmann said. “Or it may be their primary defense and they haven’t been trained in it the level that Syracuse is.”
Holtmann specifically singled out the Buckeyes’ backcourt as being tasked with a challenge heretofore unseen this season.
“They have big attacking guards, really one through four. We haven’t faced a team like this that has this size collectively and this size on the perimeter.”