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TULSA, Okla. — Chris Holtmann doesn’t hide from the fact that he pays attention to preseason projections, game predictions and the outside opinions of his team. The Ohio State coach has been known to clip out a few perceived slights against his team for motivational purposes whenever they appear, and those also tend to get mentioned publicly from time to time after they’ve been proven wrong.
But Holtmann couldn’t really argue with the crystal-ball forecast for the Buckeyes back before the season started, a time when it looked like simply making the NIT field would have been enough to make this transitional year a successful campaign. The Buckeyes lost the Big Ten’s best player, a ton of production from a handful of veterans and the leadership that came from seniors who had been through plenty of adversity with the program. Right before the first game, an already thin roster lost another big man when Micah Potter elected to transfer, and the margin for error shrunk yet again.
So, Holtmann wasn’t about to beat his chest on Selection Sunday when he had yet again exceeded the expectations. Certainly Ohio State silenced the skeptics, but even Holtmann had at least some doubt about whether something like a first-round matchup against No. 6 seed Iowa State in the Big Dance would even be possible.
“I thought we would have to play well, I did,” Holtmann said. “I thought if we played well, it could be very, very close. If we had guys step into new roles, increased roles with a number of guys … I thought if we had some of that, we would have a chance.
“But no, I didn’t look at the [preseason] projections and [question it] — how can you when we lost what we lost? … I didn’t look at it and say, ‘They don’t know what they’re talking about.’ It seemed right.”
In the end, Ohio State proved it wrong. It’s absolutely a tribute to Holtmann that he’s produced two NCAA Tournament appearances in as many seasons given the relative mess he inherited with the Buckeyes — and a promising sign for the program for years to come when he has much more talent to work with on his roster.
Eventually that preseason bar is going to be raised, and Ohio State won’t be able to thrive in the underdog role. There’s more pressure that comes from those greater expectations, and one of the next challenges for Holtmann will be preparing the Buckeyes to handle that burden of trying to prove people right instead of wrong.
But for now, Ohio State gets another chance to embrace that underdog mentality. Few programs have worn that label any better over the last two seasons, and Holtmann has proven himself to be somebody who shouldn’t be counted out.
If betting against Chris Holtmann is generally such a bad idea, why start now? And if the Buckeyes want some bulletin board material to fuel their fire against Iowa State, they’re going to have to look elsewhere.
The Pick: Ohio State 74, Iowa State 72.
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