After watching Ohio State beat Minnesota decisively Saturday, it’s clear what the key to their surprising success is.
They play team basketball; that is, they share the ball on offense and they defend as a unit. They are not the most talented group but they overcome it with their unselfish philosophy.
The Buckeyes have won seven in a row; they’re 8-0 in the Big Ten and 17-4 overall.
Coach Chris Holtmann, who had been the coach at Butler, took this job in early summer when Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith surprisingly fired Thad Matta. He hit an odd milestone this week; he’s the first Big Ten coach to start 8-0 in conference play during his first season since Iowa’s Sam Barry went 11-0 in 1923.
Holtmann obviously deserves a great deal of credit for how his team plays; they have 70 more assists than their opponents, and that helps produce 49 percent shooting.
Guard Jae’Sean Tate is a Sully’s Court favorite; he’s a deft passer near the basket. The Buckeyes are also blessed to have two good big man. Keita Bates-Diop is coming a knee injury and no one outside of Columbus could have suspected he’d be a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. And Kaleb Wesson, a chunky freshman, is highly skilled around the basket.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, a 67-49 loser Saturday, said this about the Buckeyes: “They seem very, very connected. They seem like they like each other. They’ve got good chemistry.’’
Next up are four straight winnable home games before the Buckeyes play Big Ten leader Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., Feb. 7.
. . .
Looking back on last week:
ELEVATOR GOING UP
Belmont: The Bruins, always well-coached by Rick Byrd, have seized control in the OVC with a pair of nice home wins over Murray State and Austin Peay. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 overall.
Bethune-Cookman: The Wildcats have 11 victories, exceeding last season’s total, and they’re 6-0 for first time in the MEAC.
Buffalo: The Bulls have won seven straight and they’re 14-5. At 6-0, they’re the only undefeated team in the MAC.
Canisius: The Griffs are a Sully’s Court favorite and they had a great weekend, winning in New York City against Manhattan and Iona to take over sole possession of first place in the MAAC. They’re 7-1, their best MAAC start in 21 years.
Rhode Island: The Rams won fairly easily at Dayton and are now 7-0 in the Atlantic 10 for the first time in school history. They’re 15-3 overall and firmly in charge in the A10.
Saint Mary’s: The annually disappointing Gaels finally came through with a big win at Gonzaga, beating the Bulldogs, 74-71. They followed up with a win at Pacific and have won 13 straight to improve to 18-2. That might be enough to get the Gaels into the NCAA Tournament even if they lose in the WCC tournament.
Virginia: The Cavaliers continue to put teams in their defensive vise. They’re 18-1 and 7-0 in the ACC as they hold opponents to a nation-leading 52.6 points per game and allow them to shoot just 36.6 percent.
ESCALATOR GOING DOWN
Illinois: It’s been a horrible first season for Brad Underwood in Champaign. The Illini are 0-7 in the Big Ten and have had a lot of bad luck. They’ve had second-half leads in eight of their losses and in four of the losses they had possession with a lead or a tie with less than a minute remaining. It’s all about next season or the one after for Illinois fans.
Kentucky: It seems like John Calipari is losing the recruiting battle to Southeast Kentucky; Coach K has the players he wants, and added another prized top-five recruit on Saturday when Zion Williamson picked Duke. Meanwhile, the Playaz have lost three of their last five, including one to Florida at home Saturday night. It was a poorly played rock fight that they could have won.
Notre Dame: The Irish showed some life right after their star player Bonzie Colson was injured, but reality has set in and they’ve lost four in a row, including one at Clemson Saturday night.
San Diego State: Tough week. The Aztecs lost three consecutive tough games at Boise State (83-80), vs. Fresno State (77-73), and at New Mexico (79-75).
Seton Hall: The Hall has hit a slump, dropping three of four, including a home loss to Xavier Saturday when they couldn’t hold a second-half lead.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have not gained any momentum from a win at Allen Fieldhouse against Kansas; they’ve lost three of their last four. The only win was a 1-pointer over West Virginia, so things could be worse.
UCLA: The Bruins lost at home to Colorado, then had a lost weekend in Oregon and have fallen to the middle of the Pac-12 standings.
Wichita State: I don’t want to be too hard on the Shockers; they’re still a good team, but they’ve dropped two in a row to SMU and Houston. The competition in the AAC is more difficult than the MVC.
THIS WEEK’S FINAL FOUR: Villanova, Virginia, Purdue, Oklahoma.
THIS WEEK’S NATIONAL CHAMPION: Villanova.Joe Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan