Ohio State is ranked 18th as its opens the season by hosting in-state Cincinnati in Columbus on Wednesday, but don’t tell that to Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann as he prepares for his third season in Columbus.
His first two seasons ended with NCAA Tournament appearances.
“I’ve never in my career talked about preseason rankings, not once,” he said. “Really good or bad, but certainly if you’re ranked. Just because they’re based on things that your group, in its entirety, has not actually accomplished, right? Our group, as this is comprised, it’s all presumption more than anything. So, we’ve not addressed it. We’ve not talked about it at all, nor do I think we will.”
While the Buckeyes (20-15 overall, 8-12 Big Ten last season) have a modest tournament streak going, the Bearcats (28-7, 14-4 American Athletic Conference) will try to extend theirs to 10 straight trips to the NCAAs.
But for the first time in 14 years, they have a new coach after Mick Cronin left for UCLA and was replaced by former Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen.
Fortunately for him, three of Cincinnati’s five returnees were starters in 2018-19, including AAC Player of the Year senior Jarron Cumberland. The shooting guard averaged 18.8 points and 4.4 rebounds last season.
The Bearcats lost five players to the transfer portal and two to graduation, but have four eligible transfers and four freshmen, including top-50 prospect Zach Harvey.
Brannen wants to build a foundation with his new team, beginning Wednesday vs. the Buckeyes.
“The identity of this team is defensive,” he said. “You’re going to hear me talk about it a lot in other media. The bottom line is we’ve got to defend each and every night.”
“We’re going to be aggressive in the full court. It would be nice if we could force teams into the shot clock. The better defensive teams force the tempo.”
Ohio State will rely on junior forward/post Kaleb Wesson (6-foot-9, 255 pounds), who said he dropped more than 30 pounds in the offseason.
“That’s a good playing weight. I feel like I’m still strong,” he said. “I still move bodies like I used to, but I’m lighter. I get to spots faster. I stay in front of guards better.”
His brother, senior forward Andre Wesson, said the key for the Buckeyes is to stay on an even keel. They were 12-1 playing a soft nonconference schedule but struggled in the Big Ten and at one point lost five in a row.
“Last year, that nonconference, we got maybe a little too ahead of ourselves, having that great start and not keeping ourselves level-headed and not as hungry as we could be,” Andre Wesson said. “That’s our main focus this year — control what you can control.”
The game is a rematch of the Buckeyes’ 64-56 win in their season opener last year at Cincinnati, the first regular-season meeting in 98 years.
This will the Bearcats’ first game in Columbus since 1921.
–Field Level Media