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Ohio State Basketball: Will Weak Nonconference Schedule Help or Hurt Buckeyes?

MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 16: Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes drives during a basketball game against the Marquette Golden Eagles at BMO Harris Bradley Center on November 16, 2013 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)
Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images
Doug BrodessCorrespondent INovember 23, 2013

Ohio State's 2013-14 nonconference schedule is plain and simple.

The Buckeyes only venture outside the friendly confines of Value Center Arena in Columbus twice before they open up their Big Ten slate on the road on New Year's Eve against Purdue.

Of their 11 home nonconference games, OSU takes on a low-stress schedule that includes Morgan State, American University, Wyoming, North Florida, Central Connecticut, Bryant, North Dakota State and Louisiana-Monroe.

Not exactly the Elite Eight.

Some might question whether or not this undemanding docket is good for the Buckeyes.

The answer to that can only be found by looking at three areas that this weak nonconference schedule could impact.

Lineup and Rotation Decisions

Some coaches use their November and December games to figure out who they are going to put on the floor by the time that they start playing games in their respective conferences.

While some adjustments could still be ahead, it is safe to say that OSU head coach Thad Matta knows who he is going to roll with this season. He has started the same five upperclassmen in the Buckeyes' first four games: Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross and Amir Williams.

Off the bench, Sam Thompson, the Buckeyes' No. 2 scorer, could be considered a sixth starter.

Freshman forward Marc Loving provides some scoring support, Trey McDonald helps clog the middle and Amedeo Della Valle brings some backcourt benefits.

Even if Matta makes some tweaks, the quality of these first 13 opponents would have only a minor impact on his decisions.

This veteran core will largely determine whether Ohio State is going to win or lose this year.

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 22: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes talks to Aaron Craft #4 and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. #32 in the first half against the Iona Gaels during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Being Battle-Tested

Many coaches subscribe to the idea that playing a challenging nonconference schedule prepares their teams for the battles ahead.

This is especially true for teams with younger or more inexperienced players. The same could be said for squads that have a lot of transfer players who are not used to being on the court together.

While OSU has to get ready for the rigors of the Big Ten season, it may not be the worst thing to have only a few challenges in the first seven weeks of the season.

This year, Ohio State has already defeated Marquette on the road. They will meet Maryland at home for their first game in December. And they will travel to Madison Square Garden right before Christmas to take on Notre Dame.

Most of these players played a major role in the Buckeyes' Elite Eight run last year. This team will have plenty of challenges as they make their way through the toughest conference in college basketball.

Without a doubt, they will be completely battle-tested by the time March rolls around.

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 24: LaQuinton Ross #10 of the Ohio State Buckeyes drives to the basket against Melvin Ejim #3 and Korie Lucious #13 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the second half during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

RPI Impact

No one could legitimately make the case that Ohio State's 2013-14 nonconference schedule will boost their RPI.

In fact, many might suggest that the Buckeyes are putting themselves in a perilous place for Selection Sunday. Even if Ohio State has a very good season, by playing so many mediocre teams at the beginning of their schedule, they could be given a lower seed.

Right now, CBSSports.com has Ohio State with an RPI of 14.

Whatever RPI impact that their nonconference schedule may have will be cured by their 18-game Big Ten schedule, not to mention the conference's postseason tournament.

If the Buckeyes successfully navigate these choppy waters again as they have previously under Matta's leadership, their RPI will take care of itself.

Looking Ahead

Ohio State has exceptional floor leadership with Aaron Craft running the show. The senior point guard is not about to allow his senior season to be wasted by this team developing bad habits during the first part of the season.

He is more than capable of helping his teammates keep this part of the season in perspective: These early games are preparation for the Big Ten race.

Ohio State is focused on bigger and better things.

It is not unrealistic to think that the Buckeyes could enter conference play with an undefeated 13-0 record and a high level of confidence in their gritty defense and balanced offense.

Their nonconference schedule will allow them to be fresh and ready to go to war for the important part of the season.

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