Social media basically handed out the Big Ten coach of the year award Wednesday night to Ohio State first-year coach Chris Holtmann, who was trending on Twitter after his Buckeyes upset No. 3 Purdue on the road.
Knee-jerk reaction? Maybe. That doesn’t happen on Twitter, though, right?
In all seriousness, the Buckeyes’ signature victory changed the Big Ten title race, vaulting them into a first-place tie with the Boilermakers, who had won 19 consecutive games and opened conference play 12-0.
Having already notched an impressive victory earlier in the season against Michigan State in a blowout, Holtmann appears to be in the driver’s seat for every award you can throw his way. Might as well add national coach of the year honors to the list as well. He was the third Big Ten coach to start his career 7-0 in league play. The last guy to do it? Iowa’s Sam Barry in 1922-23.
The No. 14 Buckeyes (21-5, 12-1 Big Ten) became conference title contenders and will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015. Holtmann deserves credit, but so does Big Ten player of the year frontrunner Keita Bates-Diop, who leads the league in scoring (20.2 points per game) and hit the winning shot against Purdue.
“If Keita Bates-Diop was around last year and healthy, there’s a good chance Thad Matta is still coaching the team,” Big Ten Network analyst and former Purdue player Robbie Hummel said. “But Chris Holtmann has done a great job of molding that team. If you watch them play, you come away with the feeling they really enjoy playing together and they play really hard on every night. You couldn’t say that about Ohio State the last two or three years.”
Holtmann, formerly at Butler, isn’t the only rookie coach in the Big Ten making a strong first impression this year. You can give Indiana’s Archie Miller thumbs up, too, for what he’s managed to accomplish with a depleted roster.
The Hoosiers (13-12), who play host to the Gophers on Friday, took some early lumps with bad losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne. But Miller has kept Indiana relevant in the Big Ten with a respectable 6-7 record, which includes victories over Minnesota, Maryland, Penn State and Northwestern. All of those teams were projected to finish above Indiana. Miller, who coached Dayton last season, has made the Hoosiers a difficult matchup, with their aggressive style and toughness. “They’re still playing for something,” Hummel said.
Illinois coach Brad Underwood hasn’t experienced the same success as Holtmann and Miller in his first year, but his players are adapting to his ball-pressure defense. Best example: Illinois (12-13, 2-10) recently forced 25 turnovers in a 87-74 loss to Michigan State. The Illini started 0-8 in the league, but they’ve shown some improvement in victories against Indiana and Rutgers since then.
When you see how players have responded to this rookie class of coaches, it already looks like Holtmann, Miller and Underwood are making their programs better than when they inherited them.
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball
for the Star Tribune.