The Ohio State basketball schedule is officially out, and the Buckeyes will certainly have their hands full in a number of games this season.
The luxury of playing in the Big Ten is that strength of schedule is never really an issue when Selection Sunday rolls around. While the overall slate is difficult, there are a few games in particular that stand out as the most important contests.
Factors such the conference standings, rivalries and building a strong profile were taken into account when determining the most important games. Let’s take a look at them.
North Carolina, Dec. 20 in Chicago
A home win over Marquette in November would certainly look decent on the Buckeyes’ tournament profile, and a win at Louisville would turn heads throughout the nation.
Still, the thought here is that the daunting atmosphere and the number of young freshmen head coach Thad Matta is breaking in isn’t a great formula for success on the road against Louisville early in the season. This means that the neutral-site game against North Carolina will be critical if Ohio State hopes to pick up a marquee nonconference victory for its resume.
Matta discussed this matchup and the event itself, via Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv and Zagsblog:
We are excited to be part of the CBS Sports Classic the next three seasons.The four teams competing have a tremendous history of success in college basketball. We have partnered with terrific cities and venues to make this a great experience for our program, our student-athletes and our fans.
Anytime you play against North Carolina, it is going to be circled on the calendar. We are talking about Tar Heel blue, Michael Jordan, Dean Smith and a storied history of national titles and overall dominance.
This year’s version won’t feature James Michael McAdoo, but Marcus Paige is back to wreak havoc on opponents. The athletic point guard could challenge for National Player of the Year honors and will be a significant test for young D’Angelo Russell before conference play begins.
Head coach Roy Williams also has Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto at his disposal. However, the matchup to watch will be the Buckeyes guards against Paige.
The guess here is that Matta uses Shannon Scott on Paige for most of the game. Scott will spearhead the defensive pressure this season and should make life a bit more difficult for Paige with his overall quickness and ability to stay in front of ball-handlers.
Michigan, Jan. 13 in Columbus
Ohio State versus Michigan is an important game every season, and the Buckeyes will be looking for some revenge after losing at home in the 2013-14 campaign.
This will be Ohio State’s best chance to establish its position in the Big Ten pecking order early because the conference is wide open behind Wisconsin. A victory over a relatively inexperienced Michigan squad would make a statement and let the rest of the league know the Buckeyes will at least contend for the No. 2 or 3 seed in the conference tournament.
Gone are Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, which means the Wolverines will be particularly reliant on Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr.
Both shot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point line a year ago and will stretch the perimeter defense. Walton posted a double-double against Ohio State last year (13 points and 10 rebounds), so there will be even more emphasis on slowing down the point guard in this matchup.
Sophomore Zak Irvin and freshman Kameron Chatman will also play important roles in Michigan’s attack. The athletic and versatile forwards have the potential to cause matchup problems for most teams in the league, but Ohio State can counter with Sam Thompson and Keita Bates-Diop.
This may be a game that the Buckeyes enjoy an advantage down low as well now that McGary and Jordan Morgan are no longer at Michigan. Amir Williams and Anthony Lee both have the potential to control the glass and the lane throughout this contest.
Wisconsin, March 8 in Columbus
This is Ohio State’s only game against the Big Ten’s top team this season, and there could be plenty at stake.
For one, if the Buckeyes have any hopes of winning a conference title, they will have to get past Wisconsin. Positioning in the Big Ten tournament and a chance to secure a marquee win right before Selection Sunday also make this game rather important.
Remember, the Badgers were an Aaron Harrison miracle three-pointer away from playing in the national title game last season and return the vast majority of their core. Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are all expected to play major roles for Bo Ryan’s squad in 2014-15.
That combination of Final Four experience and overall talent is a scary proposition for the rest of the Big Ten.
Kaminsky in particular could give Williams and Lee problems by extending his game beyond the three-point line. Lee is better suited to venture outside the paint than Williams, but stopping Kaminsky will be a team-wide effort.
If the Buckeyes are able to do that, they may just secure a victory against a top-five team and the momentum that comes with that distinction heading into the NCAA tournament.
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