|Ohio State, Holtmann take streak to New York|
Chris Holtmann and Sam Berry -- their names will be etched side-by-side in the Big Ten history books after Ohio State beat Northwestern on Wednesday.
Holtmann, the Buckeyes' first year head coach accomplished a feat that Berry achieved 95 years ago as a first-year coach at Iowa. Both have won their first seven conference games.
Wisconsin's Walter Meanwell holds the Big Ten record with 12 straight conference wins to start a career. Meanwell did it while prowling the sidelines in 1912.
"It really does not mean anything," Holtmann told reporters after Ohio State beat Northwestern on Wednesday. "I think that's a reflection on the players as much as anything. We've got a group that really likes each other. And it's easy to like each other when you're on the streak that we're on right now, but I sensed that they even liked each other when we had some rough spots earlier in the year."
The surprise of the Big Ten, and one of the biggest surprises in college basketball, the Buckeyes and Holtmann go for eight straight conference wins on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Ohio State was a preseason pick to near the Big Ten cellar. Minnesota was a favorite to win the conference. But as the winter chill has taken hold in Minneapolis and Columbus, one team is undefeated in Big Ten play and the other is trying to stay afloat.
The Gophers (14-7, 3-5 Big Ten) have played twice this season at MSG and the last time they were ranked and undefeated. On Saturday, coach Richard Pitino will have three different starters in the lineup than the last time they were in New York because of injuries and a suspension.
Minnesota has lost four of five and is coming off a 77-66 loss to Maryland on Thursday.
"If we don't hit shots, it's really easy to guard us," Pitino told the Baltimore Sun after the Gophers shot less than 36 percent in the loss to the Terrapins.
As the Gophers prepare for The Big Ten's third annual "Super Saturday" event (the Gophers also will play Michigan State later Saturday at MSG) Pitino is clearly unhappy about giving up a home game to play in New York.
"I don't know what we're trying to accomplish there," Pitino said. "I love New York City. I love Madison Square Garden, but I just don't get it.
"It is what it is. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for us. I got other problems I've got to figure out along the way."
Problems like how to overcome the loss of Amir Coffey to a shoulder injury and Reggie Lynch to a suspension. Problems like not having much time to practice with three games in a span of six days. Problems like being next to last in scoring defense.
Jordan Murphy helps solve a lot of problems thanks to averaging 18.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. But finding consistency from someone else has been elusive.
That's not Ohio State's problem. The Buckeyes (16-4, 7-0) have a balanced attack with four players scoring in double figures.
Keita Bates-Diop leads the Big Ten in scoring (21.4) and ranks third in rebounding (9.3) in conference games, and is the leading contender for Big Ten player of the year honor.
For the first time in five games, Bates-Diop failed to score 20 points in the Buckeyes' win over Northwestern on Wednesday. His defensive intensity was low and Holtmann sat his star.
Down by two, Bates-Diop's teammates responded and picked up their leader and when he returned to the court, Ohio State had an eight-point lead.
"We didn't always play our best, but this is one we'll feel good about," Holtmann said. "You're playing on a team's home court, they're probably going to make shots, they're probably going to make a run."
Northwestern did make a run, but the Ohio State prevailed as Bates-Diop finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, a blocked shot and a steal.
Ohio State leads the conference in scoring offense at 79.4 points per game and ranks second in defense at 63.6 in Big Ten games.