Sure, last season saw the Buckeyes play two perennial powers in Louisville and North Carolina, but neither of those games came in Columbus. Beyond those contests, the nonconference schedule was a horror show.
Outside of league play the Buckeyes didn’t welcome a single team to Value City Arena that finished in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s final rankings. Their “marque” home game came against a Marquette team that finished the season 13-19. In all, Ohio State won its 11 home nonconference games by an average of 33.2 points. That’s not exactly riveting basketball.
I give you all that information to put the Buckeyes nonconference schedule for the 2015-16 season into perspective. Yesterday Ohio State officially released its 12 nonconference opponents for next season and while it may not be the type of gauntlet that teams like Michigan State consistently run prior to Big Ten play, it is unequivocally a step up from last season.
Sure, there are some bottom feeders coming to Columbus, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Ohio State has two big-name teams yet again and filled out the rest of the schedule with mid-level teams that should legitimately test a young Buckeyes squad and provide some entertaining basketball in Columbus before Big Ten play. With that in mind, I answer all your potential questions about Ohio State’s nonconference slate of games (scroll down for the full schedule).
When should I start paying attention?
Nov. 24. Last season Buckeye fans had to wait until early December for something interesting, but this time around things should pick up around Thanksgiving. Ohio State opens with some tune-up games against Mount St. Mary’s (221st in KenPom last year), Grambling (351st, more on that later) and UT Arlington (194th), but things should pick up when Louisiana Tech comes to town in late November.
Sure, the Bulldogs aren’t college basketball royalty, but they have been an extremely consistent mid-major power in recent years, winning the Conference USA regular season each of the past three years. Louisiana Tech must replace just two seniors off a team that finished 27-9 last season, though head coach Michael White left to take the open coaching job at Florida. Even with a new coach the Bulldogs should test the Buckeyes as much or more than any team that came to Columbus in last season’s nonconference slate.
Better yet, the 2015-16 schedule offers another quality opponent just three days later as the Buckeyes travel to Miami to play Memphis as part the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational. The Tigers haven’t been the same since Jon Calipari left for Kentucky, but Memphis should provide a stiff test.
The Tigers return all but 4.5 points to a team that won 18 games a year ago and the neutral-site game should allow a young Ohio State team to dip its toes into playing away from home against solid competition.
No really, when should I start paying attention?
Louisiana Tech and Memphis don’t do it for you? You plan on spending late November focusing on Ohio State’s push for a second consecutive football national championship? Fair enough.
Look, college basketball is awesome so I think you should be paying attention all season long, but I live in the real world and in Columbus, football is king so if you want to punt on the November slate, I get it. But between the end of the football regular season and the Buckeyes seemingly inevitable trip to the Big Ten Championship game the basketball schedule really gets interesting.
Virginia comes to town on Dec. 1 as part of the Big Ten/ACC challenge and the Cavaliers should be the first ranked team to come to Columbus in the nonconference since Ohio State lost to Kansas at home in 2012.
The Cavaliers went 30-4 last season, won the ACC regular-season crown and finished fifth in KenPom’s final rankings. Sure, Virginia was bounced from the NCAA tournament in the second round by Michigan St., but the Cavaliers were consistently one of the best teams throughout the regular season last year and only lose two players who got significant minutes in Justin Anderson (12.2 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game) and Darion Atkins (7.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
Virginia will bring its physical defense to Columbus and while the result could be a slugfest, the game should tell us a lot about the Buckeyes.
When’s the first true road game?
For the second straight year the Buckeyes will play exactly one true road game before Big Ten play begins and it comes Dec. 12 when Ohio State heads to Storrs, Conn., for a matchup with UConn two years removed from the Huskies national championship.
The Huskies took a step back last season, finishing with a 20-15 record and a first-round exit from the NIT, but the pieces are there for a rebound. UConn will have to replace do-everything guard Ryan Boatright, but the Huskies welcome in a pair of Scout Top 50 players in guard Jalen Adams (No. 18) and center Steven Enoch (No. 42).
The Buckeyes first true road game should be a difficult, but winnable challenge that could look really good come March.
Who is the best team on the schedule?
With all due respect to Virginia, I would have to say Kentucky. The Cavaliers will try to outwork you and beat you with fundamentals, but the Wildcats are the better bet to run you out of the gym.
The Buckeyes will play Kentucky in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Dec. 19 in the second year of the CBS Sports Classic. Despite losing SEVEN underclassmen to the NBA, Calipari has the machine rolling in Lexington and welcomes in his millionth consecutive Top 5 recruiting class (numbers approximate). This incoming group is the fourth ranked class in the country and boasts Scout’s No. 1 player in Skal Labissiere (of course it does). While this version of the Wildcats won’t be the world-ending group from a year ago, Kentucky will have more talent than any other team the Buckeyes face in the nonconference.
Is there a chance for a record-breaking performance?
Last season Shannon Scott abused some terrible nonconference opponents to rewrite the assist portion of the Buckeyes' record books. While the 2014-15 schedule is far better than last season’s, Ohio State will face a team worse than any it played last year.
Grambling State comes to town Nov. 17 and has been the most consistently terrible team in the country in recent years. The Tigers went 2-27 last season and did not manage to win a game against an NCAA opponent (both wins were over NAIA teams). Grambling has finished dead last in KenPom rankings three of the last four seasons and was 350th out of 351 teams in the 2013-14 season.
Entering the Grambling game keep in mind the Buckeyes team record for points in a game is 121 set against George Mason in 1995.
2015-16 OSU Men's Hoops Non-Conference Schedule
Nov. 15 Mount St. Mary's
Nov. 17 Grambling
Nov. 20 UT Arlington
Nov. 24 Louisiana Tech
Nov. 27 vs. Memphis (at Miami)
Dec. 1 Virginia
Dec. 5 VMI
Dec. 8 Air Force
Dec. 12 at UConn
Dec. 16 Northern Illinois
Dec. 19 vs. Kentucky (at Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Dec. 22 Mercer
Dec. 27 South Carolina State