Thad Matta’s Ohio State squads have played in plenty of marquee nonconference games, but never in his tenure has a season opener drawn so much hype.
That is because the Ohio State Buckeyes will be lining up against the Marquette Golden Eagles from the Big East in the second annual Carrier Classic game.
A matchup between a Big Ten powerhouse and a perennial contender in the Big East would garner enough attention on its own, but this one is being played aboard an aircraft carrier.
The Buckeyes have more on their mind than just the extenuating circumstances of this first contest. Thanks in large part to the departures of William Buford and two-time All-American Jared Sullinger, there is a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding Ohio State’s team this year.
While it would be foolish to take too much away from the first game of the season, especially one that is played outdoors, there are still some things Buckeye fans should look for in the Carrier Classic.
The first interesting development will be who starts in the small forward and center positions. Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are virtual locks in their respective spots, but the other two are wide open.
The small forward spot comes down to LaQuinton Ross versus Sam Thompson. Matta will have a decision to make between defensive excellence of Thompson and offensive potential of Ross.
The center start will probably go to Amir Williams, although Evan Ravenel will garner some consideration.
For what it’s worth, Williams and Ross were given the starts in the team’s exhibition game against Walsh.
Another thing to keep an eye on besides who starts is how far down the bench Matta reaches. He claimed in the offseason that he wants to go nine or 10 deep, but Buckeye fans would be right to hesitate before believing that (h/t Mike DeCourcy, AOL Sporting News).
Assuming Thompson and Ravenel see extensive minutes off the pine (if Ross and Williams start), that would mean Matta would probably get Shannon Scott and freshman Amedeo Della Valle some time if he truly wants to play nine guys.
While extensive bench minutes would be a welcome sign for Ohio State, whether the Buckeyes win or lose will depend largely on how Deshaun Thomas handles the role of primary scorer in the offense.
He racked up 25 points in the exhibition game against Walsh, but Marquette obviously presents a much more difficult challenge.
The presence of Jared Sullinger in the paint and William Buford on the perimeter opened up plenty of space and shots for Thomas last year. If Thomas can demonstrate that he is capable of creating his own looks and capitalizing on them against the Golden Eagles, it could be a sign of good things to come.
Assuming Thomas plays well in the go-to role and the bench players are able to contribute, Ohio State should come away with a win.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting for Buckeye fans to get a sense of how Marquette looks in its first game, because a victory over the Golden Eagles could provide the Scarlet and Gray with a resume booster come March.
If Marquette looks good without Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom it could really help the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule down the road.
A final thing to watch for in the Carrier Classic stems from a pure curiosity standpoint. It will be interesting to see if the weather, wind or playing surface has any type of impact on this game, because it seems as if these outdoor showdowns may be here to stay.
In a perfect world, the Buckeyes would mix in a number of different players and each of them would look comfortable in their 2012-13 roles.
But something tells me Ohio State fans would be plenty happy with just a win.