Some years I have done pretty well, others I have not.
But, undaunted, I am back with my annual preview of what lies ahead over the next 3-1/2 months for Thad Matta's second Ohio State men's basketball team. We actually got a small taste for what this season may be about with Sunday's 81-52 win over Chicago State.
It is hard to not be impressed with what we've seen to date, although with just 10 scholarship players there is precious little margin for error. Any combination of injuries or foul trouble could leave Matta with few viable options in the latter stages of tight games.
But I am struck by the way this team moves the ball. In three games (the two exhibitions and Chicago State), I have seen very few poor shots taken. This team understands that moving the ball will lead to better shots. And, the Buckeyes could be at a disadvantage when it comes to size. Opponents with even an average inside game will be tempted to go right at 6-9 Terence Dials in the post in hopes of getting him out of the game.
I don't know how any Big Ten will be any better over the course of a game at the one, two and three positions combined. Jamar Butler showed in the second exhibition how he can be the glue. Je'Kel Foster's three-point shooting is much improved. Both of them practice strong defensive habits. Ron Lewis, a Bowling Green transfer, is an explosive player who can get to the rack with the best of them. Sylvester Mayes is a cat-quick guard who can do a little bit of everything.
J.J. Sullinger has bought into Matta's program and gives maximum effort. His hustle plays, alone, could help them win two or three tight games. Matt Sylvester is hoping to build off the incredible end to last season. He and Ivan Harris will split time at the four and also some at the three.
That leaves Matt Terwilliger and Brayden Bell to provide quality minutes inside the paint. Bell, actually, has shooting range out to the three-point line. He could create some match-up problems for opponents – particularly if he is able to get hot and hit two or three treys in rapid-fire succession before the opponent can adjust.
The nonconference slate does not include one big marquee game, although we assume those will be on tap in the years to come. But road trips to St. Joseph's and Iowa State and home games with Virginia Tech and LSU loom the largest. OSU is expected to win the rest.
Within the Big Ten, Ohio State got a pretty good scheduling draw – OSU only plays Illinois and Minnesota once each in Columbus, while it sees Iowa and Indiana once each on the road. All four of those teams were NCAA Tournament teams a year ago.
One big key for Ohio State will be to sweep several of the teams it plays twice – most notably Purdue, Penn State and Northwestern.
The following is my game-by-game look at the upcoming season, broken down into four categories and listed chronologically within those categories (all games home, unless noted).
* Chicago State, Nov. 20 -- As noted, this was an 81-52 laugher in favor of the home team.
* Butler, Nov. 22 -- A quick turnaround and Matta faces his alma mater, now coached by Todd Lickliter. The Bulldogs want to bounce back from a 13-15 season a year ago. Guard Bruce Horan and forward Brandon Polk lead the way.
* Norfolk State, Dec. 12 -- NSU was 13-14 a year ago. The Spartans are a middle-of-the-road team in the Mid-Eastern Conference.
* Belmont, Dec. 14 -- Belmont moved to Division I five years ago and is now close to challenging for the Atlantic Sun title and, perhaps, its first NCAA bid. The Bruins were 14-16 a year ago.
* Tennessee State, Dec. 23 -- The Tigers, from the Ohio Valley Conference, were 14-17 a year ago.
* Gardner Webb, Dec. 28 -- The Bulldogs have five starters back from last year's 18-12 team that won a share of the Atlantic Sun regular season title.
* Penn State, Jan. 5 -- The Buckeyes open Big Ten play with the sadsack Lions (7-23, 1-15 Big Ten last year). Coach Ed DeChellis is trying to resurrect the program, but it's hard to do when starters like Aaron Johnson and Marlon Smith transfer out. OSU has won seven of its last eight against PSU.
* Penn State, away, Jan. 21 -- Penn State did give OSU a scare before falling (72-69) in the Big Ten tournament. And sophomore Geary Claxton is one to keep an eye on.
* Florida A&M, Jan. 30 -- The Rattlers, 14-15 last year, are dealing with NCAA violations and will regroup from the bottom of the Mid-Eastern Conference.
* Northwestern, Feb. 18 -- Bill Carmody lost guard T.J. Parker early to the pros or the Wildcats (15-16, 6-10) could have been a force to reckon with.
* Purdue, March 5 -- Matt Painter takes over the reins from Gene Keady. The Boilers (7-21, 3-13) had a rough final year under Keady. OSU has won nine of its last 10 meetings with Purdue.
Free Throws (8)
* Virginia Tech, Nov. 28 -- OSU gets the Hokies (16-14 last year) for the second time in three years, although this time it will be in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Tech was .500 in the ACC a year ago, a testament to Seth Greenberg's coaching ability. OSU won a tight nonconference game 62-57 two years ago downtown at Nationwide Arena. Guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon and forward Coleman Collins were all double-figure scorers a year ago.
* LSU, Dec. 31 -- The Buckeyes and Tigers put on quite a show last year in Baton Rouge as LSU took a 113-101 double overtime win. The Tigers lost SEC player of the year Brandon Bass to the pros, but 6-9, 310-pound center Glen Davis back as are guards Tack Minor and Darrel Mitchell. LSU posted a 20-10 mark and tied for a piece of the SEC West title before falling to UAB in the first round of the NCAA.
* Purdue, away, Jan. 11 -- Painter has a couple of gems in forward Carl Landry and guard David Teague to lean on.
* Wisconsin, Jan. 18 -- It could be a transitional year for the Badgers (25-9, 11-5) after they made the Sweet 16 a year ago. Do-it-all Buckeye killer Mike Wilkinson is gone, but Alano Tucker returns.
* Minnesota, Feb. 4 -- The Gophers (21-11, 10-6) swept OSU on their way to an NCAA bid a year ago. High scoring guard Vincent Grier is the lead Gopher.
* Illinois, Feb. 12 -- Illinois (37-2, 15-1) ended up as the national runner-up to North Carolina after OSU dealt the Illini their only regular season loss. I think this is a transitional year for coach Bruce Weber without Luther Head, Roger Powell and Deron Williams. An injury prevented Dee Brown from going pro. He and James Augustine must bring along a young team with little game experience.
* Michigan, Feb. 25 -- Tommy Amaker picks up the pieces after last year's lost season (13-18, 4-12). The Wolverines have some nice components, but need to come together. One key is getting guard Daniel Horton back in the fold after a suspension last year.
* Northwestern, away, March 1 -- OSU swept NU a year ago. Forward Vedran Vukusic and center Michael Thompson give the Wildcats some height.
* St. Joseph's, away (at Palestra), Dec. 10 -- ESPN will carry this neat nonconf game. SJU rebounded from its 72-61 loss in Columbus and went on to win a share of the Atlantic 10 title, post a 24-12 record and advance to the NIT title game. Pat Carroll has moved on and coach Phil Martelli will lean on 6-5 swingman Chet Stachitas. Could be a tough one for OSU in the City of Brotherly Love.
* Iowa State, away (at Des Moines, Iowa), Dec. 17 -- ESPN2 will be on hand as the Buckeyes meet the Cyclones, who made a late push to get into the NCAA and finish 19-12 a year ago. High scoring guards Will Blalock and Curtis Stinson lead the way. This game will be played off-campus at the new Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. ISU checks in at No. 23 in this week's coaches poll. OSU has won all three previous meetings, but the teams haven't played since the 1985 NCAA Tournament.
* Indiana, away, Jan. 7 -- Coach Mike Davis has to get it done this year or risk being out of work by late March. The Hoosiers (15-14, 10-6) could not overcome rough early season losses with their Big Ten play. Sophs D.J. White and Robert Vaden lead the away, although White is out right now with an injury. Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth could be the kind of help Davis and White need inside. Assembly Hall has not been a great place for OSU to visit.
* Michigan State, Jan. 15 -- Some thought Michigan State (26-7, 13-3) could be a national championship contender after an impromptu Final Four run a year ago. But the Spartans sputtered out of the gate with an 84-62 season-opening loss at Hawaii. MSU has won six of the last seven meetings with OSU.
* Iowa, away, Jan. 28 -- Iowa (21-12, 7-9) made a great late run to snag an NCAA bid. Coach Steve Alford has three veteran scorers – all in the 14-point range – back with forward Greg Brunner and guards Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner.
* Michigan, away, Feb. 9 -- OSU has won eight of the last 11 over Michigan, but UM has won the last two in Ann Arbor.
* Wisconsin, away, Feb. 15 -- The Badgers have won four straight over OSU at the Kohl Center. They also drubbed the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten tourney (60-49) last March.
* Michigan State, away, Feb. 22 -- MSU lost major contributors Alan Anderson, Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert, but Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown and Paul Davis are a strong nucleus. OSU has lost its last 10 trips to East Lansing.
Half-Court Heaves (0)
I'm sorry, but I can't find any games on this 27-game schedule that are not winnable. The closest might be the road games at Wisconsin and Michigan State, I guess.
As we total it up, that's 11 Layups (one already made), eight Free Throws, eight Three-Pointers and no Half-Court Heaves.
You have to hit all of your Layups, so give OSU 11 wins. Seventy percent is good on Free Throws, so there are five more. If you hit 40 percent of your Three-Pointers, you are on target, so there are three more.
That leaves OSU at 19-8 overall and roughly 10-6 in Big Ten play. That should be good enough to place OSU somewhere in the top five and give them a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament, which moves back to its rightful place in Indianapolis (March 9-12).
It is my expectation that Ohio State will end its four-year NCAA Tournament drought and get back into The Big Dance. (I keep hearing the words "Sweet 16" over and over again, but we'll have to wait and see on that.)
I have been trying my hand at these game-by-game breakdowns of each OSU basketball season since 1995. Here is how I've fared each time:
* 2004-05 -- Last year, I had OSU 20-10 overall and 9-7 in Big Ten play. I ended up doggone close. OSU ended the regular season 19-11 overall and 8-8 in conference action. They then went 1-1 at the Big Ten tournament to finish 20-12 overall.
* 2003-04 -- I picked OSU to finish 20-9 overall and 10-6 in Big Ten play. I opined that the new look team featuring Tony Stockman and Sullinger would take flight. But it never happened, they dropped their opener to San Francisco, only won one of three games at the Maui Invitational and endured some lopsided losses to the likes of Seton Hall, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and others. They finished the regular season 14-15 overall and 6-10 in Big Ten play. OSU then ended the suspense early at the Big Ten tournament, losing an opening round game to Indiana to finish 14-16.
* 2002-03 -- I picked OSU to finish 18-9 overall and 10-6 in Big Ten play. Unfortunately, injuries to Brandon Fuss-Cheatham and Dials, among others, kept that team from fulfilling its potential. OSU ended the regular season 14-13 overall and 7-9 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes caught fire and won three games at the Big Ten tournament before being drubbed by Illinois in the finals. The NIT loss at Georgia Tech ended OSU's season at 17-15.
* 2001-02 -- I picked OSU to go 20-7 overall and 10-6 in Big Ten play. Alas, OSU ended the regular season 20-7, but got a piece of the Big Ten title at 11-5 in conference play. After winning the conference tournament and going out in the second round of the NCAA, the Buckeyes finished at 24-8.
* 2000-01 -- I predicted that OSU would finish the regular season 18-11 overall and 8-8 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes finished the regular season 20-9 and 11-5 (third) in the Big Ten. After the NCAA, OSU finished 20-11.
* 1999-2000 -- I predicted that OSU would finish the regular season 23-7 overall and 12-4 (second) in Big Ten play. OSU actually ended the regular season 22-5 and 13-3 in Big Ten play, earning a piece of the title with Michigan State. The discrepancy in games comes from the preseason NIT, where I believed OSU would play four games instead of just one. And, after all of the postseason was complete, OSU ended up 23-7 anyway.
* 1998-99 -- I had the Buckeyes going 18-11 and 7-9 in Big Ten play. Instead, OSU stunned the basketball world with a 22-7 regular season (12-4 Big Ten, second) before advancing to the Final Four and finishing 27-9.
* 1997-98 -- I picked OSU to go 11-18 overall and 4-12 in Big Ten play. O'Brien's first team finished the regular season 8-21 and 1-15 in the conference.
* 1996-97 -- I had the Buckeyes finishing 15-12 overall and 7-11 in Big Ten play. Instead, the team finished 10-17 overall and 5-13 in the conference, numbers good enough to get Randy Ayers fired.
* 1995-96 -- I picked OSU to finish the regular season 14-13 overall and 7-9 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes finished 10-17 overall and 3-15 in Big Ten play.
* Summing Up -- In 10 years, I have missed on my predictions by an aggregate of 30 wins -- or an average of almost three wins per year.