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Men’s basketball: Ohio State offense lacks a scheme, but has a theme — freedom

Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann addresses season ticket-holders at an event titled “An Evening With Coach Holtmann” on Aug. 1, 2017. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor

Ohio State men’s basketball head coach Chris Holtmann ponders where his team will find offense as he enters his first season after leaving Butler and its highest-rated recruiting class in program history behind him.

Holtmann was hired to replace Thad Matta in June, but has only been permitted to spend two hours per week with the team during the offseason, per NCAA rules. The new coach spoke to the media Thursday after missing official media day for a recruiting trip, and he was repeatedly asked about how the offense will look and who will score the ball.

“Can you give me a little time to practice with my group here?” Holtmann said.

Understandably, Holtmann wants to see exactly what his new players have to offer before he can concretely describe what Ohio State’s offense will look like. The Buckeyes begin practice Saturday, which should provide Holtmann with some insight into how to run his offense. The coach hinted that it might look different than it did at Butler, based on personnel..

One positive for Holtmann is that versatile senior forward Jae’Sean Tate returns as the leading scorer from last season, averaging 14.3 points per game.

“I think a guy like [Tate] is going to play three, as many as four, positions,” Holtmann said. “I need to figure out kind of how we’re going to fit everybody together and what it’s going to look like.”

One negative for Holtmann is that the second, third and fourth leading scorers totaled 34 points per game last season, but are no longer with the team. Holtmann said he has players that can fill the void. However, there needs to be growth before those guys become the dynamic scorers Holtmann is looking for.

“I do think between [Tate] and Keita [Bates-Diop] and Kam [Williams], those are three guys who have shown the ability to score,” Holtmann said. “I think some of them, their efficiency can improve, to be quite honest with you.”

Bates-Diop only played in nine games due to a stress fracture in his leg but struggled with 3-point efficiency, making just 3-of-15 attempts. Tate shot well from the floor (54.7 percent), but struggled from beyond the arc (22 percent). Williams shot decently from 3-point range (37.6 percent), but was overall inefficient from the field (39.1 percent).

Holtmann said freshman forward Kaleb Wesson is the kind of big man who can score when given the ball in the paint. He added that junior guard C.J. Jackson, sophomore center Micah Potter and sophomore forward Andre Wesson at times showed they can produce on the offensive end.

In a conference like the Big Ten, where scoring can be difficult, however, having no true offensive weapon can hurt teams who can’t defend on their end.

“I think there are times where we could struggle to score this year against some really good teams, really good defensive teams,” Holtmann said. “So our foundation has to be our defense.”

The players have made clear Holtmann’s emphasis has been almost solely on defense so far, but the offense that they have worked on has been free-flowing without too much complexity.

“One of the first things coach Holtmann said to us was, ‘You’re gonna like the freedom you have on offense,’” Potter said. “If we can shoot, he wants us to shoot. If we can drive, he wants us to drive.”

“He’s just more of a free-flowing coach,” Jackson said. “You have certain responsibilities and you gain your freedom by, basically, your play.”

Although there is no exact diagram of what the Buckeyes’ offense will look like this upcoming season, there are, at least, guys who can score and a coach willing to allow them to do what they do best.

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