1. The big story seems to be Keita Bates-Diop who has broken out in his junior year by increasing his points from 11.8 PPG in 2015-16 to 18.7 this year after missing much of last year with an injury. Besides health, what's been the main driver in this uptick?
I think that in addition to finally being healthy, the difference is that he’s now the focal point of the team, especially on offense. As a sophomore in 2015-2016, there was no defined leader for the Buckeyes. Everyone wanted Marc Loving to be that guy, but it just wasn’t in his nature. Therefore, the team was a bit aimless with Loving, Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, JaQuan Lyle, and Trevor Thompson trying to put together some semblance of an offense.
However, having missed most of the 2016-2017 season, KBD has returned to the lineup as the natural leader on and off the court. Tate has also been a reliable leader for the team, but he doesn’t provide the consistency that Bates-Diop does on both ends of the floor.
So now, Bates-Diop is the first and best option that the Buckeyes have, and he is embracing that. Being 100% healthy also helps, of course.
2. He is joined in double figure scoring by point guard C.J. Jackson (13.6 points/4.3 assists), senior wing Jae'Sean Tate (12.5 points/5.9 rebounds/3.0 assists), and freshman big Kaleb Wesson (11.9 points). What can Iowa expect from Ohio State's secondary players?
What’s been interesting about the team this year is that different guys have taken turns being the No. 2 man, depending on the game. Now, that’s not necessarily a good thing for this OSU squad, because their bench is pretty thin and inexperienced, so they need their top players to contribute every time out. However, depending on the competition, it’s been nice to know that KBD won’t have to do it all.
Jackson has been pretty streaky this season from the floor, especially from deep, but he is shooting much better than in the past for the Buckeyes. When he transferred from Eastern Florida State College, he was considered a ball-handler only, so his contributions this season have been very valuable for a team that wasn’t sure where it would find scoring.
For Tate and Wesson, the key for them is how long they can stay on the floor. Both can be foul-prone, something that will get even more dangerous during the more physical Big Ten season, and Tate has been dealing with shoulder problems. If they are able to stay in the game, they are OSU’s biggest impact players down low. However, if Tate plays less than 25 minutes, or Wesson less than 20, that could spell trouble for the Buckeyes, especially if Tyler Cook and Luke Garza are playing well.
3. One clear difference between last year and this is the defense. Per KenPom, Ohio State has improved by 4.8 adjusted efficiency. Is there anything new Chris Holtmann has implemented which is different over his predecessor?
When Holtmann got to Columbus, he preached that he wanted to get back to basics, and that’s what they’ve done. While they won’t roll out any exotic defensive schemes, they play good team defense and have significantly increased their steals total, even though they have a long way to go in that department. So far this season, they have 94 steals, which ranks 146th nationally. However, last season, they only forced 166 steals all year, good for only 285th.
The other difference is how many guys are seeing playing time under Holtmann compared to how Thad Matta used his bench. Traditionally, Matta would only use about eight or nine players in the non-conference schedule, and would pare that down as they got into the Big Ten season. Last year, for example, four players averaged more than 29 minutes per game, and two others averaged over 23, meaning there weren’t a lot of minutes to go around for reserves.
However, this season, perhaps just as much out of necessity as by design, Holtmann has only three players averaging more than 29 minutes (Bates-Diop, Jackson, Tate), three averaging between 20 and 22, and another four with 9.5 to 15.5.
The new coach is using his bench more aggressively than Matta did, which is getting some of his younger players, like Kyle Young and Musa Jallow, some extra playing time, and it is also allowing some of those guys in the middle (like Kaleb Wesson and Kam Williams) to be fresh when they are needed the most.
4. Speaking of Holtmann, how has he met expectations? It seemed like they were waning after the drama-filled summer but he's got the Buckeyes at 2-0 in conference. Can OSU build on it for a potential tourney bid?
Expectations would have been low for this team if Matta had returned as coach, and you’re right, they did start to wane even more for Holtmann during the summer, but over the course of about a week, he landed four big recruits—including Young and Jallow—and expectations started to build again.
They have been buoyed by the strong start to the season, and even in OSU’s four losses, they’ve played well. So, fans seem to be very optimistic about the future of a Holtmann-led program, both for this season and the future.
Now, does that mean that they could play themselves into the NCAA Tournament? Maybe. They have a fairly favorable conference schedule, and they’ve already got 11 wins. I would imagine that they should be in the hunt for 20 regular-season victories this year, and if they are able to get one or two more in the Big Ten Tournament, that could be enough to get them in. However, at best, I would think that this team is a “Last Four In” kind of squad.
5. Lastly, who ya got?
I will take the Buckeyes, but since it is in Iowa City, I think it will be hard fought, especially if the Hawkeye bigs can get Tate and Kaleb Wesson in foul trouble. So, I will go with OSU 68, Iowa 62.
Thanks Matt. We hope your team loses by a million. You can pester him on the Twitter about the game (or remind him of the last time a Buckeye team visited Iowa City) if you’re feeling like it at @BWWMatt (not Buffalo Wild Wings) or @Landgrant33.