Ohio State Basketball: Previewing Toughest/Easiest Parts of the Buckeye Schedule

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2012

CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 10: Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes takes the ball out of bounds while being taunted by Illinois Fighting Illini fans at Assembly Hall on January 10, 2012 in Champaign, Illinois. The Illini defeated the Buckeyes 79-74. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I have good news and bad news, Buckeye fans.

The good news is that your team is ranked No. 4 in the USA Today preseason Top 25. The bad news is that there is no realistic way that Ohio State is going to finish undefeated given its daunting 2012-13 schedule.

Thad Matta’s squad will battle Marquette, Kansas, Duke, possibly Washington, Indiana twice, Michigan twice, Michigan State twice and Wisconsin twice. At least the Buckeyes won’t have to worry about strength of schedule working against them when seeding discussions begin.

However, it’s not as if Ohio State will be lining up against a top-10 team every game, although there will be plenty of times that it will. There are easier stretches to go along with the gauntlet portions that will undoubtedly make Matta squeamish.

The easiest part of the Buckeyes’ schedule is the stretch of games that runs from Dec. 1 through Dec. 18. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those couple of weeks are sandwiched in between some of the most difficult non-conference battles Ohio State faces (Duke and Kansas).

The Buckeyes play Northern Kentucky on Dec. 1, Long Beach State on Dec. 8, Savannah State on Dec. 12, UNC-Asheville on Dec. 15 and Winthrop on Dec. 18. As if that wasn’t easy enough, all those games are in Columbus.

Northern Kentucky just entered the realms of Division-I basketball, and Winthrop was 12-20 last year. The other three on that list are actually defending conference champions—UNC-Asheville in the Big South conference, Long Beach State in the Big West conference and Savannah State in the MEAC.

However, Long Beach State would have been the only team among those three that would have had the talent to potentially play with the Buckeyes last year. Unfortunately, the 49ers lost the majority of their critical pieces, including superstar Casper Ware, from the team that went to the NCAA tournament in 2011-12.

The 49ers play Ohio State, USC, North Carolina, UCLA, Syracuse and Arizona in their non-conference schedule. The tilt with the Buckeyes also comes right after a trip to Syracuse, meaning a less-talented 49ers team could be running on fumes by the second half in Columbus.

If Ohio State goes anything but 6-0 in that stretch of games, it could spell trouble when the schedule starts to get hairy.

Nevertheless, things will start to pick up again from Feb. 5 through Feb. 24, which is the most difficult part of the Buckeyes’ schedule.

While almost every game in the deep Big Ten will present its own challenges, Ohio State will play all of the conference favorites in that stretch.

The gauntlet starts with a trip to Michigan on Feb. 5, continues with home games against Indiana (Feb. 10) and Northwestern (Feb. 14), then a trip to Madison on Feb. 17 before finishing with home battles against Minnesota (Feb. 20) and Michigan State (Feb. 24).

Obviously, showdowns with preseason No. 1 Indiana, preseason No. 5 Michigan and preseason No. 14 Michigan State jump out immediately. However, Madison has been a house of horrors for Matta (last season was Ohio State’s first win at Wisconsin since 2000), and Minnesota is a talented team that is being overlooked right now.

In fact, it is my personal opinion that the Gophers are going to end up earning themselves a formidable seed in the NCAA tournament come March.

If the Buckeyes are going to contend with Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and possibly Wisconsin for a conference crown, it will be won or lost in this stretch of games. The scarlet and gray will play each of these contenders, plus dangerous Minnesota and Northwestern teams, in that short window of time.

So, how do Ohio State fans think their squad will do in these two separate parts of the schedule? Feel free to let me know in the comments section.