The whirlwind offseason for Ohio State men’s basketball comes to a close Friday.
For the first time, head coach Chris Holtmann will lead the Ohio State men’s basketball team onto the court as the team opens its 2017-18 season at 7 p.m. Friday with a showdown against Robert Morris at the Schottenstein Center.
The game will introduce a new coaching staff, led by Holtmann, and a roster featuring seven new players — two of whom are walk-ons. Sophomore center Micah Potter said the team is aware of naysayers who claim the inexperienced team is weak.
“The biggest thing we want is to just prove people wrong,” Potter said. “Prove that we’re capable of playing and playing well, and capable of beating some very talented opponents.”
Holtmann said he is not caught up in proving anybody wrong. Instead, he emphasizes continual improvement because he knows his team is a work in progress.
Robert Morris’ 14-19 record last season might not jump off the page, especially considering the team competes in the lesser Northeast Conference, but Ohio State’s new coach respects the team’s first opponent.
“They’re physically tough; they play tough; they’re incredibly scrappy,” Holtmann said. “They have attacking players and skilled players and they’ve got terrific athleticism.”
He called the Colonials one of the toughest teams he has seen on tape in recent memory.
Robert Morris must replace its top two scorers from last season after shooting guard Isaiah Still transferred to Iona and point guard Kavon Stewart graduated. However, the Colonials make their presence felt on the defensive end of the floor by pressuring opponents into turning the ball over.
Robert Morris forced 16.6 turnovers per game last season, which ranked No. 9 in the country. Holtmann said he is aware of the defensive prowess of the Buckeyes’ first opponent and the challenges presented by the Colonials’ physicality and activity.
“It’s going to test our decision-making, our ball handling, being sure with the ball and tough with the ball and making tough decisions,” Holtmann said. “It’s gonna test us both inside and certainly gonna test our guard play. So this is a great opportunity to kind of figure out … are we growing in that area?”
Much like the Buckeyes, the Colonials face uncertainty with many new players. They return only two starters in defensive-minded sophomore guard Dachon Burke and versatile junior wing Matty McConnell.
A season ago, Burke finished sixth in the Northeast Conference in steals per game, while McConnell finished third. McConnell looked strong in Robert Morris’s two exhibition games, recording 27 points and five steals, and 24 points and six steals, respectively.
Robert Morris’ high-pressure defense should represent a challenging debut for the new-look Buckeyes, who also have a lot of questions to answer and, according to Potter, a lot to prove.
For freshmen Kaleb Wesson, Musa Jallow and Kyle Young, transfers Andrew Dakich and Connor Fulton and walk-ons Danny Hummer and Matt Lehmann, the matchup with the Colonials will be their first game as Buckeyes.
But for senior Jae’Sean Tate and redshirt senior Kam Williams, the game will be their final season-opener at the Schott.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Williams said. “You know you want to go out there and do so well. But for me, every game, I just want to go out there and just have as much fun as possible. Just let loose, just play with my teammates and just whatever happens, happens.”