Ohio State Basketball: How the Buckeyes Stack Up Against the Rest of the Big Ten

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2012

Ohio State Basketball: How the Buckeyes Stack Up Against the Rest of the Big Ten

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    Since Thad Matta took the reins in Columbus eight seasons ago, Ohio State has been the class of Big Ten basketball. The Buckeyes have won five regular-season conference crowns, reached six Big Ten Tournament Championship Games (winning three) and competed in two Final Fours.

    Throw in two Big Ten Players of the Year, three Big Ten Freshmen of the Year, two Big Ten Defensive Players of the Year, three Big Ten Sixth Men of the Year and three Big Ten Coach of the Year Awards, and it's clear Ohio State has the conference's attention.

    After previously breaking down the Buckeyes' non-conference schedule, here is a look at how the scarlet and gray will hold up against conference competition in 2012-13. Since the Big Ten has not released its conference schedule yet, we will work under the presumption that Ohio State is playing each team twice for now (although it actually won't).

Nebraska

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    Let's just say the Big Ten's newest member was not a basketball addition.

    It was generally understood that Nebraska was added to the conference for football purposes. After all, the Cornhuskers finished last season with an abysmal 4-14 conference record, good enough for a tie for last place in their new league.

    Few teams made the struggling Huskers look worse last season than the Buckeyes. Ohio State annihilated Nebraska by more than 30 points both times the squads matched up.

    Things are once again looking bleak in Lincoln, at least when it comes to hoops. Leading scorer Bo Spencer has graduated, a lackluster recruiting class is coming in and the team will probably be in over its head during Big Ten play.

    However, Nebraska's 2013 recruiting class is shaping up nicely, so there is hope for the future.

    For now, the gap between these two squads is still large enough that the Buckeyes will cruise to two easy victories, but I bet both fanbases would rather win the matchup on the gridiron.

Iowa

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    The Iowa basketball program has not been very competitive in the Big Ten for a handful of years.

    That doesn't mean the Hawkeyes don't scare some of the conference favorites every season, though. Just ask Indiana and Wisconsin; Iowa beat the Hoosiers late in the regular season and shockingly defeated the Badgers twice last year, including what was supposed to be an unwinnable game in Madison.

    Ohio State, perhaps keenly aware of the threat the Hawkeyes posed, was ready for its game in Iowa. The Buckeyes took the only matchup between the two teams in a relatively easy fashion.

    However, Iowa will be more dangerous this season than it has been in a while. The Hawkeyes reeled in an impressive recruiting class, highlighted by 4-star center Adam Woodbury.

    Even with the fresh blood in Iowa, though, Ohio State comes away with two victories here. But they certainly won't be as easy as they have been in the past few years.

Northwestern

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    For much of last season, it looked like the poor Northwestern Wildcats were finally going to make the NCAA tournament. After all, the Wildcats are the only power conference team to never qualify for the sports playoff, and it seemed like everyone was rooting for them.

    A late-season collapse, including a heartbreaking home loss to Ohio State, cost Northwestern its spot.

    Whenever the Buckeyes travel to Northwestern, they always seem to have their hands full. Last season the scarlet and gray needed a buzzer-beating shot by Jared Sullinger to escape overtime and actually fell to the Wildcats in 2009.

    However, Northwestern loses Mr. Everything John Shurna this season and will probably see its streak of tournament misses continue.

    Yes, Ohio State also loses its star in Sullinger, but the Buckeyes have more left in the cupboard than Northwestern.

    Ohio State wins both games against the Wildcats this season.

Illinois

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    Illinois is hitting the reset button in 2012-13. After firing Bruce Weber, the Illini hired John Groce from Ohio University, fresh off a run in the NCAA tournament that saw the Bobcats defeat Michigan on their way to the Sweet 16.

    Illinois also lost center Meyers Leonard to the NBA draft and didn't add much in the way of recruiting. It would be easy to assume that this will be a lost season in the name of transition, especially after the way the Illini collapsed last year.

    However, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson return in what will be a formidable backcourt. Ohio State fans probably remember Paul lighting up the Buckeyes for 43 points in a shocking defeat last year.

    Nevertheless, this is still the same Illinois team that fell apart down the stretch and minus its best player from a season ago. The Buckeyes will win both games they play against the Illini, but Groce should have them turned around within a year or two.

Purdue

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    Purdue has been a constant in the NCAA tournament for the last few years and also has had a say in the Big Ten title race for much of that time.

    That may be coming to an end this season.

    Robbie Hummel is finally gone, and really only D.J. Byrd and Terone Johnson return for the Boilermakers. Not exactly something to write home about.

    However, Purdue does have a respectable recruiting class coming in, but it's a bit much to expect the freshmen to jump in and have the Boilermakers playing at the same level right away.

    The Buckeyes beat Purdue twice last season and will do the same this year. The Boilers will keep the game at Purdue competitive, but the showdown in Columbus will be over rather quickly.

Wisconsin

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    Death, taxes and Wisconsin basketball.

    Sure as daylight, the Badgers will be a fundamentally sound team that is almost impossible to beat at home and frustrates more talented opponents for 40 minutes.

    It worked last season in Columbus; Wisconsin completely bottled star Jared Sullinger, holding him to only eight points en route to a 63-60 upset.

    In fact, the only people more frustrated than the Buckeye big man that night was the home crowd. The Badgers are boring but effective, and there is no reason to expect anything different this season.

    While Wisconsin lost its leader in Jordan Taylor to graduation, the majority of the starters return this year, including potential star in the making Ryan Evans. It’s easy to dismiss the Badgers and say that Ohio State is clearly the more talented team and will demonstrate so on the court, but I don’t see it happening.

    The Buckeyes and Badgers will split their two games this year. After all, it would be a monumental task for the scarlet and gray to win in Madison two seasons in a row.

Minnesota

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    I am higher on Minnesota than a lot of other people are heading into 2012-13. Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins and highlight-machine Rodney Williams are all back.

    However, the most important development for the Gophers is the return of center Trevor Mbakwe for his sixth season of eligibility.

    When healthy, there may not be a better center in the Big Ten this side of Cody Zeller. Expect Mbakwe to rank among the conference's leaders in rebounds and probably lead the conference in blocked shots.  

    Mbakwe didn't play in Minnesota's matchup with Ohio State last season, but the Gophers still hung with the Buckeyes for the majority of the game. In fact, it took a 20-0 run over the course of seven minutes for Ohio State to win the game.

    Buckeye fans may not like this pick, but I think Minnesota will surprise Ohio State and steal one of the two games. It seems like the Bucks always lose a game or two they shouldn't in conference play (see: Illinois last year), and this may be the one.

Penn State

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    Penn State basketball has one thing going for it entering this season. Tim Frazier, perhaps the Big Ten's best offensive guard, returns after his outstanding junior year.

    Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, Ohio State has the perfect kryptonite for an explosive guard.

    Despite allowing Frazier to score 16 points (fewer than his average) last year, Aaron Craft visibly frustrated him all game long. The Penn State star shot a measly 6-of-17 and also turned it over four times.

    Expect more of the same from Craft this season, who thrives when he is matched up with premier guards. The Lions don't have many other formidable options outside of Frazier, so as long as Craft contains his production, Ohio State will win rather easily.

    Expect two Buckeye victories in these games.

Michigan State

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    Michigan State is going to miss Draymond Green. There's no way around it.

    But that doesn't mean the Spartans aren't going to compete in the Big Ten and probably make a deep run in March. As long as Tom Izzo is prowling the sidelines, it's almost a guarantee.

    Even without the defending Big Ten Player of the Year, the green and white still have plenty of weapons. Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and a (hopefully) healthy Branden Dawson return, and they will have the chance to join forces with a talented recruiting class.

    The shining jewel of that recruiting class is Gary Harris, who is expected to make an instant impact when he hits the court this year.

    The Spartans handled Ohio State in Columbus last year and probably would have beaten the Bucks in East Lansing had Dawson not gone down with an injury in the first half. Michigan State also took out Thad Matta’s bunch in a thrilling Big Ten Tournament Championship Game.

    These games are always tightly contested. I think the two teams split their regular-season matchups again, only this time the home teams win.

Indiana

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    It is not difficult to make a convincing case that the Indiana Hoosiers are the best team in the country heading into this season. In fact, that is why they are ranked in the top spot in most preseason predictions.

    The Hoosiers return the majority of their primary contributors from a team that beat national champion Kentucky in the regular season and gave the Wildcats a serious scare in the Sweet 16.

    A big factor in the two games between Ohio State and Indiana this season will be Amir Williams' ability to contain Cody Zeller down low. Williams will not have a better chance to prove there is substance behind the hype during the regular season than in this matchup.

    The Buckeyes and Hoosiers basically have reversed roles from last season to this season. Last year, the Buckeyes were the conference favorites, while the Hoosiers were the young contenders predicted to finish somewhere in the No. 2-5 slots.

    Indiana rode a raucous home crowd to victory over the Buckeyes on New Year's Eve, but fell by double digits in Columbus.

    I expect the role reversal to come full circle this year, with the Hoosiers winning rather easily in Bloomington and the Buckeyes, fueled by the home crowd, to edge out a victory at home.

Michigan

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    I already have composed a detailed, position-by-position breakdown of how these two rivals match up on the court this season, so feel free to click the link for a more thorough analysis.

    Basically, these two squads are so evenly matched that it's difficult to imagine a scenario where they do not split their two games (and perhaps play a tiebreaker in the Big Ten tournament) this season.

    Last year, that is exactly what happened. Ohio State took care of business in Columbus and dispatched the Wolverines by 15 points. However, when the rivalry shifted to Ann Arbor, Trey Burke demonstrated some second-half heroics and led the maize and blue to a rare victory over Thad Matta.

    Ultimately, behind a revenge-inspired Aaron Craft performance (forcing Burke into arguably his worst game of the season through suffocating defense), the Buckeyes split the tie in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.

    After last year's three showdowns, there may not be a better individual battle in the entire conference and perhaps country than Craft versus Burke. Craft certainly has the edge right now after the last meeting, but the Columbus-bred Burke will have at least two more shots in 2012-13.

    Look for Ohio State and Michigan to split their two regular-season games and perhaps play again late in the Big Ten tournament.