Chris Holtmann and Kevin McGuff had different paths to the head coaching job for Ohio State’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Both have brought Ohio State success in their tenures, each leading their respective teams to appearances in the respective NCAA tournaments. Both have seen their share of star athletes make the transition to the professional level, with guard Kelsey Mitchell and forward Stephanie Mavunga for McGuff and forward Keita Bates-Diop for Holtmann.
But both have seen their fair share of struggles during the 2018-19 season, with postseason expectations dwindling with each loss the two teams take.
And both programs seem to have significant plans for the future, each bringing in a recruiting class for the 2019-20 season that has the potential to return each coach to the success that brought them to Ohio State initially.
Holtmann knew he was not going to have the depth he had a season ago. At the beginning of the season, it did not matter. Ohio State won 10 of its 11 nonconference games to start the year.
But without the size it once had, losing center Micah Potter via transfer before the season and sophomore forward Kyle Young due to injury during the season, the Buckeyes, according to Holtmann, developed a misunderstanding of how difficult Big Ten play would be.
Ohio State recorded five straight losses in its return to Big Ten play on Jan. 5, ending its streak on Jan. 26 with a 70-60 win on the road against Nebraska. But the schedule didn’t get easier for the Buckeyes, losing Tuesday to No. 5 Michigan 65-49, their worst loss of the season.
“You guys have heard me for the last month and a half; I’ve been saying that there are concerns I have about us, and we just have to keep working to address it,” Holtmann said.
With the foul trouble of the team’s leading scorer — sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson, who has fouled out of three of his past five games — Ohio State has struggled with offensive consistency. The Buckeyes are averaging 67 points per game, while shooting 42.3 percent from the field in Big Ten play.
Defensively, Ohio State is allowing opponents to shoot 43.3 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3 in conference play.
Despite the Buckeyes’ start outside of conference play, they are one of two teams in the Big Ten this season without a win against an AP Top 25 opponent.
But the future for Ohio State seems bright.
In his first full recruiting period since taking the job prior to the 2017-18 season, Holtmann has secured commits from three four-star players — guard DJ Carton, the No. 1 player from Iowa, forward Alonzo Gaffney, the No. 2 player from New Hampshire, and EJ Liddell, the No. 1 player from Illinois.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, Ohio State will have No. 1 recruiting class in the Big Ten, according to the 247Sports rankings, and the No. 10 class in the country.
McGuff had a pretty positive track record on the recruiting trail. In their two seasons together, Mitchell and Mavunga, both former five-star recruits, with Mavunga transferring to Ohio State from North Carolina prior to the 2016-17 season, the Buckeyes entered the NCAA Tournament as a five- and three-seed respectively, going as far as the Sweet 16 in the 2017 Tournament.
However, with the loss of both Mitchell and Mavunga after last season, McGuff did not have high-profile recruits to replace them.
That was going to come in the 2019 recruiting class, bringing in four five-star players, all of which were in the ESPN Top 100, including guard Kierstan Bell, who, from McKinley High School in Canton, was named as a two-time Ms. Ohio Basketball.
Until then, McGuff had to play a roster primarily filled with the two extremes — freshmen or graduate transfers.
And the Buckeyes struggled at points, going through a five-game losing streak of their own from Dec. 20 to Jan. 5.
Ohio State has three players in Big Ten play that average double-digit scoring in redshirt senior guard Carly Santoro, freshman guard Janai Crooms and freshman forward Dorka Juhasz. The Buckeyes are also getting outrebounded in conference play 37.3 to 34.4 while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3.
“I think it just shows when we are doing the things that makes us good, we are being stingy defensively, we are being aggressive on the boards, we are taking care of the basketball, we can compete with anybody,” McGuff said. “We just have to be able to do that for longer stretches of period in a game for us to finish those games out and win.”