Ohio State's Jake Diebler on interim challenges, lobbies for on-the-bubble Buckeyes ahead of NCAA Tournament


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The college basketball regular season has come to an end and many conference tournaments are underway or have already crowned a champion. Coaches and players across the nation now shift their focus to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

While UConn and other highly ranked teams, such as Houston, Purdue and Arizona, appear to be virtual locks for this year’s tournament, several other teams, including Ohio State, remain on the bubble.

During a recent appearance on OutKick’s “Don’t @ Me with Dan Dakich,” Ohio State interim head coach Jake Diebler discussed the challenges both he and the players faced during the midseason coaching transition.

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Jake Diebler coaches a game

Head coach Jake Diebler of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts during a game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Jersey Mike’s Arena on March 10, 2024, in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

My first thought was just my heart was broken for Holt and his family because I know, and I saw every day really for five years, just how much he poured into this program,” Diebler responded to a question about his initial reaction to now-former Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann’s departure.

Diebler then prioritized connecting with the athletes on the roster.

Jake Diebler talks to a player

Ohio State interim head basketball coach Jake Diebler talks with guard Roddy Gayle Jr. during the game against Michigan State at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan, on Feb. 25, 2024. (Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“I think they were hurt, too. And what we did … we met as a program that day and I just told them, ‘Listen guys, take the rest of this day, take time to process this however you need to process it.’ But what we did talk about … we talked about the uncertainty that now surrounded everybody because everybody’s mind immediately went to what’s next.

“We just asked, ‘Hey, let’s commit all of us here to keeping the future in the future.’ And then there was a reality to the opportunity that was in front of us. We knew our schedule was tough down the stretch. And we knew that also provided great opportunity.”

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The 37-year-old coach also credited the coaching staff and the players for the team’s late-season success.

“The great thing through all of this is … you’ve seen the character of the guys in this program, the guys on our team, our staff. You’ve seen the character of everyone just be revealed [at] such a high level, that’s why I think we’ve been able to have some success here down the stretch.” 

The Buckeyes got off to a 5-1 start when Diebler took over last month. Ohio State enters the Big Ten tournament with a 19-12 record.

Jake Diebler coaches a game

Jake Diebler of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts during a game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey, on March 10, 2024. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Holtmann led Ohio State to an impressive 12-2 start, but the team struggled as the season progressed. The Buckeyes were 14-11 at the time of Holtmann’s dismissal.

If Ohio State can make a serious run in the tournament, it would bolster its odds of being selected for the big dance. During a recent press conference, Diebler took a few moments to lobby for his team’s inclusion in the tournament’s field of 68, citing Ohio State’s improved play over the past several weeks.

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“Absolutely, absolutely,” Diebler said in response to a question about whether he believes the Buckeyes are worthy of a March Madness berth.

“I’m no expert on all the metrics that go into making that decision. But I would think a couple of our top wins would stack up against anybody in the country. We’ve now stacked together some road wins. Also, the momentum that we have and the way we’ve been playing lately?” said Diebler. “I think there’s a lot of positives that, you know, would help our case.”

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