Ohio State fails to qualify for NCAA Sweet 16 after losing to Villanova


PITTSBURGH — The vocal gathering of Ohio State fans inside PPG Paints Arena watching their team play against Villanova died down after Sunday’s 71-61 loss to the Wildcats. But much of Buckeye Nation has gotten louder.

The uproar is due to the Buckeyes being kicked out of the NCAA Tournament before reaching the Sweet 16. Again.

Ohio State knows how to make it through the NCAA Tournament but can’t make an omelet once it gets there. The four consecutive trips to March Madness — five if you credit OSU for making the 2020 tournament that was canceled by COVID-19 — deserve a pat on the back. Only 11 other teams have done the same in the last four.

It’s good.

But 11 of those 12 teams have made it past the second round at least once during that streak. The only exception? State of Ohio.

Not so good.

Villanova's Caleb Daniels shoots Ohio State's Malaki Branham on Sunday.

Keep on going? Seven of those 11 schools have reached the Final Four at least once in the last three tournaments. Most of them are “basketball schools”, including Villanova, Gonzaga and Kansas. Some are at least as strong in basketball as they are in football, including Michigan State and Houston.

And then there’s Michigan, which just hit its fifth straight Sweet 16 and would have played No. 7 Ohio State on Thursday at San Antonio if the Buckeyes had upset No. 2 Villanova.

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Would, could…but should? That’s the million dollar question. Or several millions, if you’re the type to equate coaching salaries with NCAA success.

Should Ohio State sink deeper into March Madness? Absoutely. Are the Buckeyes in the same category as Kansas, Duke and Arizona? Absolutely not. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I’ve written that such football factories as Ohio State – throw in Alabama, Clemson and Georgia if you will. want – do not produce Class A basketball products. At least not consistently. They just don’t.

Villanova's Eric Dixon shoots Ohio State's EJ Liddell on Sunday.

And yet… Ohio State can do better. Holtmann’s three immediate predecessors – Thad Matta, Jim O’Brien and Randy Ayers – have each had at least one Sweet 16 appearance at this point in their tenure. All three also had at least one Big Ten title. Holtmann has neither.

Does this mean his job is in danger? Not even close. He’s actually more likely to receive a contract extension from OSU athletic director Gene Smith than a job security warning. Why? Because those four/five straight NCAA spots show that Holtmann knows how to do the dance with a variety of different roster setups. Besides, it’s not like the disappointment of the tournament is entirely related to him. The inability to make it out of the second round dates back to 2013, four seasons before Holtmann’s arrival.

And yet… the fans don’t want their team to stand still. They either want an all-time winner, so they can count on steady trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four, or they want a total loser who swings and misses so often they don’t feel guilty. to call his head.

On Sunday, Ohio State's EJ Liddell shoots Villanova's Caleb Daniels.

Holtmann is much closer to John Wooden (UCLA) than John Candy (“Cool Runnings”), but could boy use penetrating and scoring guards. A top-notch playmaker would also help.

“You can’t close out games with your inside guys as the main playmakers. That just can’t happen,” Holtmann said after the loss, referring to the need for a stronger guard game. , especially in late game situations. “You have to have that to win in the last four minutes, and that’s priority number one.

“We have to continue to develop that within our roster and obviously with our recruiting class. We have guys who need to improve in that area. And will.”

Villanova has those guards. The Buckeyes need it. The Wildcats (28-7) made hay on Sunday with a backcourt that pushed Ohio State’s smaller, less physical guards back into the paint. It seemed like every time the Buckeyes cut the deficit into single digits in the second half — OSU came within 60-58 with 5:39 left — the Wildcats responded with a bucket by the 6-foot-3 guard. inches Collin Gillespie (20 points).

Simply put, teams need a strong guard game to advance deeper into March.

Villanova's Justin Moore shoots Ohio State's Kyle Young on Sunday.

“The ball is so much in their hands, and it dictates the game so much in general,” Holtmann said, explaining why guards become especially important during the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio State (20-12) was hurt all year by the absence of 6-7 goaltender Justice Sueing, who played the first two games before an abdominal injury ended his season. He probably would have been a constant scoring threat. Instead, the opponents opted to drop some players so they could overtake EJ Liddell (17 points) and Malaki Branham (23 points.)

Help arrives next season with the No. 5-ranked recruiting class, including 6-4 shooter Roddy Gayle Jr. (ranked No. 4 nationally in his position by 247sports), 6-1 point guard Bruce Thornton (#8), 6-11 center Felix Okpara (#11) and 6-6 forward Brice Sensabaugh (#16).

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Of course, that only raises expectations and puts more pressure on Holtmann, especially since Liddell and possibly Branham have left for the NBA. But the pressure comes with the job. Especially in March.

“I’ve got to keep getting here, I’ve got to keep growing,” Holtmann said of trying to break through to the Sweet 16 or beyond. “Look, when we got here a few years ago with a different program (Butler), you keep getting here, you get here enough, you get here regularly, and it will happen.

“We performed pretty well in this tournament in three (four) of them. We just weren’t able to qualify for this second round. I believe in what we are doing and I’m more than confident . to arrive.”

Until then, the noise will only increase.

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