Chris Holtmann Welcomes Tough Schedule for Ohio State

BruceHooley

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has a dog, but he sure doesn't need it.

Not for the oft-stated reason NBA broadcaster Mark Jackson gives.

Holtmann, whose 18th-ranked Buckeyes open at home at 8:30 tonight against the University of Cincinnati, certainly didn't acquire the family Boxer upon Jackson's recommendation..

"If you're afraid," Jackson is fond of saying, "buy a dog."

The fact Ohio State is opening with UC, a team every OSU coach who preceded Holtmann avoided like a tax audit, shows how he embraces the benefits of what some would label a risky opener.

First, the Buckeyes could lose to the Bearcats, who are a mystery given first-year coach John Brannen and a host of transfers to go with pre-season America Athletic player-of-the-year Jarron Cumberland.

Holtmann has a roster as long on untested freshmen as it is proven upperclassmen, although his freshmen are wildly talented.

Risking a loss to UC could damage his players' confidence in a way a walkover against some over-matched, hyphenated, branch campus school with multiple directions in its name would not.

But Holtmann believes the benefits outweigh the danger, or he wouldn't have played at Cincinnati its opener last season or he certainly wouldn't be playing other non-conference games this year against Villanova, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky.

"You're a little reluctant with a younger team and guys that you're relying on with this number of freshmen and sophomores," Holtmann said. "That would be my only reluctance to playing games that are going to matter. We're not in the NCAA Tournament last year without playing and winning at Cincinnati. So, they matter early."

Fans from both schools have clamored for a series between OSU and the Bearcats since their historic meetings in consecutive NCAA Championship games in 1961 and 1962.

The Buckeyes, with future Basketball Hall-of-Famers Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, lost both times to UC in significant upsets.

After that, the schools did not meet again until part of a made-for-TV doubleheader in December of 2006 when Mick Cronin was in his first year at Cincinnati and had very few holdovers from the disintegration of the Bob Huggins era.

Ohio State was stacked with freshmen Mike Conley Jr. and Greg Oden and would eventually reach the national championship game that season.

The Buckeyes won that day, and again when they played UC in the 2012 Sweet Sixteen in Boston en route to the Final Four.

Holtmann said there is no current agreement to play beyond this season, but he's open to it.

"We'll see in the future," he said. "We have some outstanding programs in our state, a lot of them from mid-major to now considered high-major programs. I think it's important to play them."

Thad Matta had no such interest in giving programs like UC, Xavier or Dayton a chance to beat Ohio State and gain the perceived recruiting advantage of having on-court superiority.

Jim O'Brien, who preceded Matta, inherited a game at Toledo in the 1998-99 season when OSU eventually went to the Final Four. The Buckeyes lost at the buzzer and O'Brien vowed to never play another Ohio opponent if he could avoid it.

He vehemently opposed playing Cincinnati, refusing to entertain the idea even after then-Ohio governor Bob Taft -- a Cincinnati native -- said on an ESPN broadcast of a Bearcats' game that he would like to see a series with OSU.

Holtmann has labeled UC, "the toughest opener I've ever had."

But having coached previously at Butler, he saw the other side of the issue when Indiana risked its reputation playing the Bulldogs.

"Who wants to live a risk-free life?," Holtmann said. "I don't think that's the way to go about it. But I get it. I understand people's other view on it. I understand, respect and appreciate that. We're just trying to be our very best every day and we're trying to be our very best as we build toward the end of the season. That's what matters the most.

"Games against the caliber of programs like Cincinnati, regardless of whether they're in state or not, help."

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