COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State basketball has lacked signature achievements in recent years.
As the win total declined over each of the past six seasons, the big victories that were common under head coach Thad Matta started to occur less frequently. Ohio State hasn’t won a Big Ten-ACC Challenge game since 2013 when the Buckeyes beat Maryland (which has since moved from the ACC to the Big Ten). Over the last three seasons, Ohio State’s only impressive win against a marquee opponent came against No. 4 Kentucky as a part of the 2015 CBS Sports Classic.
On the other hand, Chris Holtmann — the Buckeyes’ new head coach — has claimed quite a few big wins in recent years. What follows is a look at five of Holtmann’s greatest accomplishments in his head coaching career.
5. Winning 12 of 13 at Gardner-Webb
Holtmann’s first two years as the head coach of Gardner-Webb, a historically downtrodden program that didn’t start competing in Division I until 2002, weren’t great. He won 11 games his first season and 12 the next. Six games into conference play in his third season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs had shown improvement but were scuffling with a 10-10 overall record.
Everything changed when Gardner-Webb won 11 of its last 12 games to close out the regular season and picked up an additional victory in the quarterfinals of the Big South tournament. A loss in the semifinals ended hope of a surprise NCAA bid, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs were invited to the CIT on the strength of their hot finish. It was the first time in program history the team competed in a postseason tournament.
The impressive run also got Holtmann noticed, and he jumped at the chance to become a Butler assistant after the season.
4. Beating No. 5 North Carolina in 2014-15
Not many coaches would have left a Division I head coaching job to return to life as an assistant coach, but Holtmann saw Butler as a quicker path to elite jobs. His gamble was rewarded. After one season as an assistant, Holtmann was appointed the interim coach less than a month before the 2014-15 season opener when head coach Brandon Miller requested a medical leave of absence.
In the Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinals in the Bahamas, Holtmann and Butler took down No. 5 North Carolina, 74-66. It gave him his first win against a ranked team as a head coach and signaled he could handle the head coaching position. Five weeks later, Butler removed the interim tag and the job was his.
3. Crossroads Classic success
Ohio State doesn’t typically schedule big in-state foes, but Holtmann showed he could handle such a task at Butler. The Crossroads Classic annually features a doubleheader between Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue and Butler. Odd years feature Notre Dame-Purdue and Indiana-Butler, while even years pit Indiana against Notre Dame and Butler against Purdue. (Indiana and Purdue don’t play each other because they belong to the same conference).
Holtmann lost his debut in 2014, but followed with wins in each of the next two seasons. The Bulldogs took down No. 9 Purdue in 2015 and then defeated No. 9 Indiana last season.
2. Making the Sweet 16
This past season, the Bulldogs beat No. 13 seed Winthrop in the NCAA Tournament first round and No. 12 Middle Tennessee in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16. Obviously, neither opponent was highly regarded, but Butler earned the easy path with regular-season success that gave the Bulldogs their highest seed in the NCAA Tournament (No. 4).
Butler bowed out in the Sweet 16 after facing eventual national champion North Carolina, but the two previous wins gave Holtmann a breakthrough after losing in the round of 32 each of his first two seasons.
1. Beating Villanova twice in 2016-17
What’s better than beating the defending national champions? How about doing it twice in one season? Butler earned that No. 4 seed in part because of two wins against Villanova, the reigning champion who entered the 2016-17 NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.
Both wins were definitive, too. Butler picked up a home win against No. 1 Villanova on Jan. 4 with a 66-58 victory. On Feb. 22, Holtmann and Butler went to Philadelphia and took down the No. 2 Wildcats, 74-66.
Villanova only suffered three losses prior to the NCAA Tournament — and Holtmann gave the Wildcats two of them.