Following a season that saw Ohio State reach its 11th Final Four in program history, the finish of the 2012-13 campaign was certainly disappointing.
Yes, the Buckeyes won the Big Ten tournament title, but they were a victory over underdog Wichita State away from reaching yet another Final Four. Thad Matta and company came up short and have spent the offseason preparing for another run at college basketball’s grandest event.
But if the Scarlet and Gray are going to win a Big Ten title, which is the first goal on the to-do list to check off before any postseason run, they must come through in the important games. Read on to see which are the five biggest ones.
Ohio State doesn’t have much to write home about on its nonconference schedule, but there are a handful of difficult games. The most challenging one will be the early season trip to Marquette.
This game is so important because it is the one chance the Buckeyes have to impress the selection committee with a road victory before conference season begins. Fortunately, the Big Ten is better at basketball than football so the strength of schedule won’t be too much of an issue, but marquee nonconference wins are important for the seeding line.
Davante Gardner will pose a problem for the Buckeyes in the middle. If Amir Williams doesn’t make a jump this year Ohio State won’t have any answers down low for the Marquette big man.
This is also an important game because it will be the first chance for LaQuinton Ross to show what he can do as the No. 1 option against elite competition. The defense in the Big Ten can be stifling, so a solid performance from Ross here will give him confidence going forward.
Thad Matta has made a routine of winning Big Ten championships and conference tournaments since he took over in Columbus, but the one place he has really struggled to win at is Madison.
While Wisconsin has similar struggles against Matta and company when the games shift to Columbus, the Badgers don’t make that trip this year. That means Ohio State’s only chance to record a victory over a potential Big Ten title contender will have to be at the loud and intimidating Kohl Center.
Sam Dekker is one of the best players in the conference, and he’s slightly too big for Aaron Craft to guard for 40 minutes. That means someone besides Ohio State’s defensive ace (or his running mate Shannon Scott) will have to contain Dekker in front of his home fans.
The Big Ten will be a loaded race all season long. Whichever team can record meaningful road wins will likely be the one on top come March.
Any successful Ohio State season in any sport includes a victory over archrival Michigan, and the 2013-14 basketball campaign is no exception.
While fans won’t be treated to the Aaron Craft and Trey Burke matchup that they have been in years past, both the Wolverines and Buckeyes are on the short list of Big Ten and Final Four contenders. For as important as it will be for Ohio State to rack up a handful of road victories against fellow conference contenders, it is even more important that it defends home court.
The key for the Buckeyes will be containing Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. McGary can pose a problem in the middle if Amir Williams isn’t ready to take an imperative role, and Robinson III will test the defensive mettle of Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross.
The 2013-14 version of the Indiana Hoosiers will not be the regular-season juggernaut that it was last year following the departures of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
That being said, Yogi Ferrell and freshman Noah Vonleh could have Tom Crean’s squad in contention again once the Big Ten race hits the stretch run. And a trip to Bloomington for the Buckeyes in early March certainly qualifies as part of the stretch run.
Ohio State will have its hands full trying to compete with Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin for a conference crown, so any chance it has to quell the hopes of a fringe contender like Indiana needs to be taken advantage of. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott should make life difficult once again for Ferrell, just like they did in Bloomington last year.
Perhaps Crean will get to the podium for his press conference following another loss to Ohio State faster than he did last time.
It potentially doesn’t get any better than this when it comes to regular season college basketball showdowns.
Michigan State and Ohio State are considered two of the Top 10 teams in the nation (via the initial USA Today Coaches Poll) and will battle each other all year for the Big Ten crown and a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament. While Michigan may have something to say about it, this final game of the season may decide the conference race and who gets the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.
This will be a battle of collegiate superstars between Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Adreian Payne and Gary Harris (not to mention the supporting actors list that includes Sam Thompson and Branden Dawson). From a Buckeyes’ perspective, the game may come down to whether Craft can dominate Keith Appling or not as he did in the Big Ten tournament last year.
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