Hickey: Ohio State is done this season. Should Chris Holtmann be too?
It was perfectly appropriate that Ohio State’s Sunday afternoon game at Michigan was a brunchtime affair. For the puns, you see.
You can stick a fork in the Buckeyes.
Ohio State is toast.
And so on.
It’ll take more than a few mimosas to make the rest of this Ohio State basketball season watchable, because it feels as good as done at this point.
No one could have guessed this is where things would be when the Buckeyes began Big Ten play 2-0 and had a heavyweight bout against Purdue looming at Value City Arena. And if anything, that game served as a confirmation that Ohio State was the real deal.
It took a clutch late 3 from Fletcher Loyer for the top-ranked Boilermakers to win.
FLETCHER LOYER. ICE IN HIS VEINS. 🧊@FletcherLoyer x @BoilerBall pic.twitter.com/JyYDRhYl9t
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 6, 2023
The debate over which team is second-best in the Big Ten seemed settled at that moment in early January.
Instead, it still rages, and will likely do so by the time the Big Ten Tournament tips next month. At this point, one of the few definitive answers to the question of “Who’s No. 2 in the B1G?” is “it’s definitely not Ohio State.”
The Buckeyes (11-12, 3-9) are ahead of Minnesota in the Big Ten standings. That’s it.
If Ohio State’s season was going to turn around, last week was the week. A home game against a Wisconsin team that lurched in with 6 losses in 7 games was the perfect recipe for a rebound. Instead, the Buckeyes ended up being the cure for what ailed the Badgers.
Ohio State would have to get it done on the road. But what better place to do it than Michigan? Surely the Buckeyes would lay it all on the line against their biggest rival with the season spiraling out of control.
The Wolverines, suddenly sensing their own mortality, controlled the game from the tip. Michigan never trailed. Hunter Dickinson wasn’t letting the Buckeyes beat him on his home court, and put together the type of performance it’ll take to get Michigan back in the NCAA Tournament picture — 26 points and 11 boards.
Ohio State simply doesn’t have the veteran alpha dog capable of carrying the team on his back. At 11-12, the Buckeyes don’t even have “NIT” written all over them.
And when you don’t even reach the NIT at Ohio State, it becomes fair to wonder whether your job is safe.
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Is Chris Holtmann, who hasn’t had a losing season since his second year at Gardner-Webb in 2012, coaching his way onto the hot seat?
Chris Holtmann’s surprising tumble
If Ohio State fans were placed in charge, Holtmann’s seat would already be en fuego.
Laughing stock of the big ten.. and they won’t do a damn thing about it! FIRE CHRIS HOLTMANN!!! https://t.co/UOLmfHq65T
— Derek Trifonoff (@trifff21) February 3, 2023
Gene Smith’s decision to extend Chris Holtmann after last season continues to prove an extreme blunder
Ohio State is in a pickle
— The Victory Bell (@VictoryBellOSU) February 5, 2023
It's time for Holtmann to go. Going 1-9 over the last 10 games is a disaster.
— CleBuckeye (@CleBuckeye23) February 5, 2023
What’s up with the Lady Buckeyes hoops team!? They are really starting to spiral. Looked like the best team in the country, now looking like they are a Chris Holtmann coached team.
— Irrational Browns Elf (@IrrationalFan23) February 5, 2023
Holtmann has OSU under .500 in February for the first time in 20 years, and he also is the only coach in OSU history to lose in the first round to a 15 seed.
— Sa❌uel Albert (@Treblamas1) February 5, 2023
Ohio State fans aren’t put in charge of these things, of course.
If they were, Ryan Day would have been fired after losing to Michigan for a second straight season, then re-hired when the Buckeyes made the College Football Playoff, then fired again for his play-calling on Ohio State’s final drive against Georgia.
But this also isn’t a case of being completely blinded by passion.
If you have a losing record at Ohio State, you get fired.
Randy Ayers was canned after his third straight losing season in 1997.
Jim O’Brien was technically fired for NCAA rules violations, but maybe he would have gotten something closer to the Bill Self treatment from Ohio State if he hadn’t gone 14-16 in his final season.
Thad Matta stepped down after failing to even reach the NIT in 2017.
Even the great Fred Taylor retired when the Buckeyes finished at the bottom of the Big Ten in 1976.
All 4 of those coaches accomplished what Holtmann never has — either winning a Big Ten title or getting the Buckeyes to the Final Four. So it’s not unreasonable to think he should start getting uncomfortable if Ohio State’s slide continues through March.
But the person actually making the decision, athletic director Gene Smith, doesn’t appear to see things that way.
In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch following the Wisconsin loss, Smith said, “Chris is our coach of the future. He’s doing an outstanding job.”
Former Villanova coach Jay Wright, working as the color commentator for Sunday’s game, echoed those sentiments during the broadcast.
Former Villanova coach Jay Wright had a vote of confidence for Chris Holtmann at the end of Ohio State’s loss at Michigan.
“He will get them there. There’s not a coach in the country I respect more. He’ll get’em there.” pic.twitter.com/BxkcphVPdG
— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) February 5, 2023
It’s worth noting that Wright’s take wasn’t exactly unbiased — he and Holtmann are friends.
Unless the bottom completely drops out in Ohio State’s final 8 games — and at this rate, it might — the tea leaves point to Holtmann returning next year.
He and Smith, who signed him to a 3-year extension in August, at least have some plausible outs to explain this season away.
Outside of Zed Key and Justice Sueing, the lineup is made entirely of transfers and freshmen. And Sueing didn’t play last season due to injury, so he’s essentially 1 step removed from being a newcomer himself. According to KenPom, the Buckeyes are 348th nationally in minutes continuity from last season and 363rd in “luck.”
Ohio State has already signed the nation’s No. 6 recruiting class and is 1 of 3 teams left in the running for Bronny James.
This offseason isn’t going to be one in which Ohio State makes a change at the end of the bench.
Perhaps it’s delaying the inevitable. That usually seems to be the case in these scenarios.
How many times has a coach actually been saved by the ballyhooed recruiting class that you can’t break up by making a change?
Of course, that argument is usually being made on behalf of a coach that hasn’t won before. Holtmann hasn’t even sealed the deal on his first losing season at Ohio State yet. There’s more evidence that this is a fluke than the beginning of the end.
But come next season, there will be no doubt what temperature his seat is.