Mark Znidar
Mark Znidar

Mark Znidar comes to Press Pros Magazine after 33 ½ years at The Columbus Dispatch. From 1996 until September 2018, he staffed high school sports, Ohio colleges that included the Mid-American Conference, Ohio State’s upcoming opponents in football and Ohio State baseball. In the previous three seasons he covered the Columbus Clippers triple-A baseball team. His other beats were Ohio State basketball (1985-88), Clippers (1985-86 and 1989-93), Cincinnati Bengals (1993-95) and NASCAR (1994-2008). He subbed on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ohio State women’s basketball beats. In March 2017, Znidar was inducted into the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.  Znidar was born in Cleveland and raised in Richmond Heights. He graduated from Cleveland St. Joseph High School and the University of Dayton. He also worked for The Atlantic City Press, Lake County News-Herald and Baltimore News-American. He has a daughter, Amanda, son-in-law Josh and four grandchildren.

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There were nervous times during the selection show, but the Buckeyes get an 11th seed, and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Columbus – By the time the NCAA Tournament selection show began to air, the last thing Chris Holtmann needed was white noise turned up so loud that he felt like a game was being played in front of a full house.

The Ohio State basketball “family’’ gathered inside The Schott on Sunday to find out whether it was in or out of the 68-team field, and that included approximately 15 children of the coaching staff having one great time.

The kids were in a room next to the team, and it didn’t help Holtmann that CBS host Bryant Gumbel was rattling off names of teams except for the Buckeyes. Bracket experts were predicting his team would be anywhere from a 10th to 12th seed and possibly one of the final four teams in.

“Aside from them being loud and obnoxious, it was tense in the room,’’ Holtmann said of the kids. “You know you are in that slot at 11 and you are running out of options. You could hear a pin drop when the No. 6 (seed), Iowa State, came up.’’

Senior graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods was on the same emotional pitch as his coach. He chose Ohio State because he thought it was his best shot at making the NCAA tournament, and this was the moment of truth.

Woods avoided watching basketball after a loss to Michigan State. He even took in Captain Marvel to kill time and relax.

Now, it was judgment day.

“I was nervous and I’m pretty sure everybody else was nervous,’’ he said. “You see all these teams get selected and hear the possibilities of where you are supposed to be placed, but then when your name doesn’t come across you get worried. Then you get down to, oh, there are two more regions left and you don’t know.’’

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The drama ceased when Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State (23-11) was paired with Ohio State (19-14) in the Mid-East Region at 9:45 p.m. on Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Then the kids were upstaged. There was sheer pandemonium by the players for more than 22 seconds. As is their ritual after victories, coaches hugged one another.

“It just took a major shift in the room,’’ Woods said. “Everybody was cheering and happy, hugging each other, and that’s what it’s all about.’’

The problem for Holtmann was the man in the mirror, himself. He was a mental mess because he spent a majority of the day going over metrics and mock brackets.

It was the first time in his career as a head coach that he went into selection day not knowing whether his team was in or out. His anxiety rose when Belmont and Temple were paired in a play-in First Four game in Dayton.

Last season, the Buckeyes were Big Ten runners-up and a fifth seed. At Butler, his teams were seeded ninth in 2017, sixth in ’16 and fourth in ’15.

Sheward-Fulks Insurance, in Jackson, is a proud sponsor of Buckeyes sports on Press Pros Magazine.com.“Yesterday I told Gene Smith we were solidly on the 11 line and maybe even a 10,’’ he said of the athletic director. “As each hour passed today and I studied the numbers, I studied myself into absolute paranoia. I just had to stop. Thank God we had practice so I could just stop looking at it. I just got too worked up.’’

Would the Buckeyes losing five of the last seven games and seven of the last 10 hurt?

How about Virginia Commonwealth not winning the Atlantic 10 and Nevada not winning the Big West in conferences that potentially were considered one-bid?

Holtmann thought the Buckeyes would be in great shape with one more victory after the 90-70 upset of Iowa the fourth-to-last regular season game.

Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said. “I thought after the Iowa game that if we got one more win we were going to be in good shape…because of no bad losses, your non-conference, and your road wins.  [But] it was dicey there.’’

But center Kaleb Wesson was suspended three games for violating athletic department policy, and Ohio State lost them all to Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

Victory No. 19 came against Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, and that turned out to be a play-in game. The Hoosiers were among the first four teams not selected.

“I didn’t start looking at it until the last two weeks,’’ Holtmann said. “I thought after the Iowa game that if we got one more win we were going to be in good shape because of no bad losses, your non-conference (schedule) and your road wins, which are important to the committee. It took us a while to get another win. It was dicey there.’’

In the end, the selection committee picked eight Big Ten teams. Michigan State and Michigan are No. 2 seeds and Purdue a No. 3.

Ohio State wasn’t supposed to get this far after losing conference player of the year Keita Bates-Diop as an early entry NBA draft pick and seniors Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams and Andrew Dakich.

There was a jolt 48 hours before the opening victory at Cincinnati when back-up center Micah Potter announced that he was transferring. He eventually chose Wisconsin.

Forward Kyle Young has been playing on one leg for weeks because of the after effects of a stress fracture and sprained ankle, and guard C.J. Jackson has fought through shoulder and ankle miseries for some time.

Wesson’s suspension could have blown up the entire season.

“We’ve never coached a team where it has been this many new faces and you have to figure out with each passing day who we are and who we were becoming,’’ Holtmann said. “That has been the challenge, and it has been a challenge in many ways. I thought we would have to play well (to make the NCAAs). I thought if we played well that it could be very, very close.’’

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Jackson, who was signed out of junior college as a bit of a gamble by former coach Thad Matta, was proud to make the tournament as a senior.

“All season long we’ve been leaning on one another through the struggles this year,’’ he said. “To see our name pop up there was a relief. We’re excited about the opportunity. We knew coming in to this year that a lot of people were going to count us out for different reasons,’’ he said. “This team didn’t let that affect us from putting ourselves into position for the NCAA Tournament.

The historical significance of moving on to the big tournament wasn’t lost on the team. This is Ohio State’s 29th appearance and second straight under Holtmann.

Holtmann pointed out that until Matta’s tenure, when the team went to seven straight NCAAs at one point, no Buckeyes team had made it more than three straight seasons.

Veteran columnist Mark Znidar writes the Buckeyes for Press Pros Magazine.com.

This team was picked to finish eighth in the Big Ten. Non-conference road victories over Cincinnati and Creighton were huge, and so were Big Ten wins over Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.

“That just shows that Ohio State is back and doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon just because of the fact how coach Holtmann runs things and how he has changed the culture so fast,’’ Jackson said. “I don’t think our goal was to just make the tournament. We’re not here just to play one game in the tournament but actually to win some games and make a run.’’

It’s not an “entitlement’’ making the NCAA Tournament, Holtmann said.

“It’s something that has got to be earned, and it’s hard to earn those and it’s consistently hard to earn those,’’ he said.

All season he had to hear and read what his players were not.

“I bristle when I hear those guys constantly getting criticized,’’ Holtmann said. “They deserve to enjoy this moment. It’s meaningful to me. You can’t explain how happy you are when you see your seniors’ faces. I can’t overstate how important it is.’’

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