Ohio State men’s basketball head coach Chris Holtmann promised during his opening press conference in June that a “really challenging” nonconference schedule was a priority.
Tuesday, his influence on the Buckeyes’ future schedules was first seen with the scheduling of a season-opening home-and-home with highly regarded program Cincinnati in 2018 and 2019. That’s just the first example of what he and the coaching staff intend to do with future nonconference slates, Holtmann said Wednesday.
“Our schedule is tied into some future series,” Holtmann said. “I would like to play in some of these events that happen, some of these tournaments. Whether it’s Maui, Battle for Atlantis, whatever, I would like to do that.”
In the past few seasons with former head coach Thad Matta, Ohio State had one or two games scheduled nonconference against ranked teams per year. At Butler under Holtmann, the Bulldogs were often in early-season tournaments and played in the Crossroads Classic with a game against either Indiana, Purdue or Notre Dame in Indianapolis.
In 2016-17, Ohio State had the 290th most difficult nonconference schedule while Butler ranked 40th, according to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistical ratings. Holtmann’s Bulldogs played in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2015 and the Las Vegas Invitational in 2016 against high-major teams Miami (Fla.), Vanderbilt and Arizona, all of which made the NCAA Tournament last season.
Calls for a tougher nonconference schedule have been prominent from the Ohio State fan base, especially for games against quality in-state programs Cincinnati, Xavier and Dayton. Holtmann said at first he wasn’t aware of the hankering from fans to see those games scheduled. The first scheduled series with Cincinnati since 1919 and 1920 is a step in that direction.
“I don’t know if I really understood that until I had spent maybe a few weeks, a couple months, here,” he said. “This game met all the requirements to be a really high-level game and the excitement [from fans] was certainly a big part of that.”
As much as Holtmann wants to be involved in nonconference destination tournament fields with top-ranked teams, he’s limited with Ohio State’s one-game obligation to the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the CBS Sports Classic, the Big Ten-Big East agreement for the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games, and the possibility of the Big Ten expanding conference seasons from 18 to 20 games.
“It’s a puzzle we’re trying to put together here based on what I would like to do and what is reality,” he said.
Matta’s schedules don’t require a massive overhaul, Holtmann said, but there are changes he wants to make based on his philosophy. That philosophy could include packed schedules with several blue-blood programs, including at least one or two marquee home games in November or December per season, before a demanding Big Ten slate.
“The argument that you don’t have to play [in-state teams] because you’re the state university, that doesn’t resonate with me as much because, again, the quality of the program and the energy around the game, and the fact that it could be a really good RPI game,” he said. “I think if you can do that, your fans, it’ll excite your fan base.”
The Buckeyes are reportedly scheduled to play Xavier in a closed-door scrimmage this month, which Holtmann said was originally scheduled by Matta. Holtmann has a relationship with Xavier coach Chris Mack and said he would be open to scheduling the Musketeers if the two do not meet in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
“We get a dose of reality and honesty in those settings,” Holtmann said. “And why not do it against a high-caliber team?”