The 2014-15 Ohio State basketball season will be one of redemption after the team failed to live up to expectations last year.
Thad Matta lost Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. from last season’s roster, but he hit the recruiting trail hard and brought in one of the best classes in the country. D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate highlight that group, but the only way Matta’s recruiting efforts will pay off is with wins on the court.
With that in mind, let’s take an early look at some of the most intriguing games on Ohio State’s 2014-15 schedule.
The Big Ten/ACC Challenge is one of the highlights of the college basketball season every year, and the 2014-15 edition will be no different. Among the marquee contests is a showdown between Duke and Wisconsin, but Ohio State’s Dec. 2 trip to Louisville will certainly make headlines as well.
The two conferences split the past two Challenges, and the Big Ten won the three before that. Of course, the ACC won the first 10.
This will be the Cardinals first-ever Big Ten/ACC Challenge, while the Buckeyes have won five of their past six games in the event. Ohio State is 4-3 all time against Louisville, but the Cardinals won the last matchup between the two in a 2003 overtime thriller on the Buckeyes’ home floor.
Much like Ohio State, Louisville lost a ton of talent with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware all departing. However, between Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, Rick Pitino still has a loaded roster that could compete for a Final Four. This will be a serious challenge for the young Buckeyes, especially given the fact that it will take place in the intimidating KFC Yum! Center.
Another one of Ohio State’s most interesting games will take place against Louisville’s future ACC foe North Carolina.
The battle with the Tar Heels will take place on Dec. 20 in Chicago as part of an incredible doubleheader in the CBS Sports Classic. The other game pits all-time great programs Kentucky and UCLA against each other, and the four teams will rotate matchups over the course of the next three years.
Matta discussed his excitement to take part in the event in a statement, via Adam Zagoria of SNY TV and Zags Blog:
We are excited to be part of the CBS Sports Classic the next three seasons. The four teams competing have a tremendous history of success in college basketball. We have partnered with terrific cities and venues to make this a great experience for our program, our student-athletes and our fans.
The Buckeyes would certainly like to have Craft back for this game to guard Marcus Paige. Paige may be the best point guard in the entire country next year, and his penetration ability, smooth stroke from behind the three-point line and tendency to find open teammates will be a real challenge for the Buckeyes’ young defense.
The Tar Heels will also bring in a loaded recruiting class that includes Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, which provides some serious depth around Paige, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.
While the first two nonconference games will give Ohio State fans a look at some new faces, Wisconsin is the opponent from the Big Ten that should be circled on every team’s calendar.
Which opponent will be most difficult for Ohio State next year?
Bo Ryan and the Badgers have always been something of a thorn in Matta’s side throughout his entire tenure at Ohio State, especially when Ohio State has to travel to the Kohl Center. The Buckeyes and Badgers typically duel it out in classic contests on the court, and the 2014-15 season should be no different.
Wisconsin made it all the way to the Final Four and lost a heartbreaker to Kentucky in March, but that experience and gained confidence should provide a boost for them this season. Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky all return and should have the Badgers as Big Ten favorites heading into conference play.
Considering the personnel losses from Michigan State and Michigan, this battle could go a long way toward deciding the Big Ten title or at least some of the more favorable seeds in the conference tournament.
Follow me on Twitter: @ScottPolacek