Grading Chris Holtmann's Three Seasons at Ohio State

Bruce Hooley

Chris Holtmann declined to accept the invitation to grade his performance over his first three seasons at Ohio State, which may indicate he already knows the answer and humility dissuaded him.

If not, he's going to enjoy looking at the report card. 

One of 46 new hires in Division I college basketball prior to the 2017-18 season, Holtmann is one of only two coaches to get his team to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first two years.

The other is New Mexico State's Chris Jans, who like Holtmann had his team in position for a third straight berth before the NCAA cancelled the even in mid-March over COVID-19 concerns.

Jans, dismissed at Bowling Green for an off-court incident, is 0-2 in his two NCAA appearances, while Holtmann has coached OSU into the second round both of his seasons in Columbus.

"I will really leave that up to other people to make their evaluation," Holtmann said earlier this week when asked to grade himself. "If you were sit back and evaluate our three years relative to other situations in the last three or four years where guys were hired, I certainly feel good about that and the start we've had here. There's no question I feel good about the start we've had here in our first three years."

Holtmann didn't get the chance to build on that success this season after the Buckeyes rallied to win nine of their final 12 games and finish 21-10 and in a fourth-place tie in the Big Ten.

He most assuredly had OSU in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight berth, and spoke earlier this week about his regret over not getting a chance to play out the season.

No one knows with certainty how the Buckeyes would have fared, but it is more clear how Holtmann has fared in comparison to the other coaches hired to take over programs at the same time he came to Columbus.

All of them got earlier starts at their new places of employment than Holtmann, who arrived in June after the ponderously-late firing of Thad Matta.

But none of Holtmann's counterparts -- either at Power 5 schools, mid-majors or other locations -- have vastly superior performance records over their first three seasons.

Five of 46 coaches hired in the same off-season as Holtmann -- prior to 2017-18 -- have better records than Holtmann's 66-34 record at Ohio State:

Coach
School
Record

Chris Jans

New Mexico State

75-17

Bob Richey

Furman

73-25

Brian Dutcher

San Diego State

73-26

Will Wade

LSU

67-32

Joe Pasternack

Cal-Santa Barbara

66-29

Dutcher's success is largely a factor of a 30-2 season this past year.

Wade is under fire for being caught on an FBI wiretap bidding for elite recruits.

At 64-31, Dayton's Anthony Grant has a higher winning percentage (.674) than Holtmann (.660), but Grant's number is greatly inflated by this past season's 29-2 mark after two years in which he did not get the Flyers into the NCAA Tournament.

Holtmann and Grant are among a fraction of the 2017-18 hires to coach their teams to two or more plus-.500 seasons in their respective leagues since their hiring three seasons ago.

Only 15 of 46 coaches have done that, with Holtmann, Wade and Washington's Mike Hopkins the only three among nine Power 5 hires to do so:

Coach
School
Record
NCAA appearances
+.500 league finishes

Chris Holtmann

Ohio State

66-34

2

2

Archie Miller

Indiana

55-43

0

0

Michael Boynton

Oklahoma State

51-49

0

0

Will Wade

LSU

67-32

1

2

Mike Hopkins

Washington

63-39

1

2

Brad Underwood

Illinois

47-49

0

1

Kevin Keatts

North Carolina State

65-36

1

1

Cuonzo Martin

Missouri 

50-46

1

1

Wyking Jones/Mark Fox

California

30-65

0

0

So there's solid numerical evidence to give Holtmann a glowing grade for his first three years, particularly since he inherited a program that had missed the Tournament the two previous seasons.

Even so, there's been a palpable muttering among OSU fans since mid-March over what's gone wrong in Holtmann's program to result in three top recruits transferring out and transfers coming in from other schools to fill those slots.

Former Top 100 recruits D.J. Carton, Luther Muhammad and Alonzo Gaffney all left OSU, setting off alarms among the fan base that something must be amiss.

Muhammad started for two seasons and Carton played considerably off the bench in his first season, averaging 10.4 points before leaving the program for mental health reasons in late January.

Only Gaffney played the limited minutes of the typical unhappy transfer.

Carton, who announced Thursday he'll attend Marquette, and Muhammad, who's transferring to Arizona State, both want the ball more than Holtmann can promise with guards C.J. Walker and Duane Washington returning next season.

"In terms of the whole perspective of comparing our tenure, the last three years to other people's, other people can do that and judge that," Holtmann said. "I feel very good about it and very good about where we're heading.

"That doesn't mean  you don't take a step back and evaluate what can we and what can I do better. What do we need to do better, in terms of every area? Coaching, recruiting, because there's no one that is more motivated to compete for and compete at the kind of level we all want to compete at here."

Matta took OSU to 10 NCAA Tournaments in an 11-year span, including a school-record seven straight, and missed the Tournament only four times in 13 seasons.

One of those years, the Buckeyes likely would have made the field, but were ineligible because of recruiting violations before Matta's arrival.

That's the kind of consistent success Holtmann is striving to attain.

'We've had some consistency here in our start," Holtmann said. "Now, how do we continue to grow it in a way that it can sustain itself and hopefully get to the next level? That's all we're consumed with right now. We're evaluating everything we can do in that regard."

What grade would you give Chris Holtmann after his first three seeasons? What, if anything, do you need to see to be convinced he'll bring long-term success to the Ohio State basketball program? Leave your comment below.

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