The Ohio State basketball team may have disappointed last year, but one luxury of being a marquee program is the national exposure that comes every season.
The 2014-15 campaign will be no different for the Buckeyes. ESPN will feature Big Ten and SEC doubleheaders throughout the year on Super Tuesday, and head coach Thad Matta’s bunch is scheduled for two of those contests.
The full schedule can be found on ESPN MediaZone, but we are particularly interested in the games featuring Ohio State. With that in mind, let’s preview those showdowns.
Ohio State at Minnesota, Jan. 6, 9 p.m. ET
Ohio State split its two contests against Minnesota last year, with the home team winning both times.
The Buckeyes' victory over the Golden Gophers in Columbus may have been their most memorable one of the season because they overcame a double-digit deficit by winning the second half 46-18.
Minnesota turned it on down the stretch, though, and enters the 2014-15 season with plenty of momentum.
Richard Pitino’s bunch won the National Invitation Tournament by knocking off High Point, Saint Mary’s, Southern Miss, Florida State and SMU, and it returns most of the primary contributors from that squad. Anything short of a spot in the NCAA tournament this time around would be a major disappointment.
Andre Hollins is the leader, and he is looking to improve on what was a shaky finish last year. He averaged 16.2 points a night in his first 19 games but suffered a severe ankle sprain against Wisconsin and literally limped to the finish.
Assistant coach Dan McHale discussed Hollins’ season with Amelia Rayno of the Star Tribune:
I don't think people realized, I don't think we really realized -- because he's such such a good kid -- how much the injury affected him. I think it was evident a little bit with his game in the second part of the year, after the Wisconsin game. But he's the type of kid that puts the team first, guts it out.
The Golden Gophers will need more of that leadership, but Hollins won’t be alone.
DeAndre Mathieu returns after averaging 12 points and 4.2 assists a night last year behind 51 percent shooting from the field and 48.9 percent shooting from three-point range.
Mathieu’s quickness on defense helps him stay in front of ball-handlers and dart into passing lanes, which is why he averaged 1.6 steals per game last season. His perimeter defense could pose a problem for freshman D’Angelo Russell if the young Buckeye isn’t completely settled in as a ball-handler by January.
Down low, Minnesota is counting on a jump from Maurice Walker. Walker is 6’10”, shot 56.5 percent from the field a year ago and has double-double potential.
Ohio State can certainly relate to Minnesota when it comes to counting on players to fulfill their potential, especially this season. Freshmen Russell, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate will all be marquee members of Matta’s team, but the battle to watch in this matchup takes place in the backcourt.
Hollins and Mathieu will test Ohio State on both ends of the floor. Shannon Scott will be tasked with containing Hollins, while the young Russell will have to keep his turnovers in check against the pesky Mathieu.
Fortunately for Scott and Russell, they will have some help on the wing and down low with Bates-Diop, Tate, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, Marc Loving and Anthony Lee.
All that talent will be enough to overcome Minnesota and its guards on the road, but the Golden Gophers will be a serious threat to the young Buckeyes.
Prediction: Ohio State 76, Minnesota 71
Michigan at Ohio State, Jan. 13, 7 p.m. ET
A matchup between Ohio State and Michigan in Candy Land would make waves in Columbus and Ann Arbor, so a prime-time showdown on the hardwood is sure to turn heads.
Matta has dominated the Wolverines throughout his career, but Michigan won both contests last year. Revenge will certainly be on the mind of the Scarlet and Gray when their hated rivals come to town, and it will be a very different Michigan team they encounter.
Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary will all be in the NBA this year, which means head coach John Beilein will count on junior Caris LeVert for leadership and offensive production.
LeVert started his career as a defensive specialist but averaged 12.9 points and 4.3 rebounds a night last year behind 40.8 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.
He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for his efforts and has Michigan fans anticipating another monumental leap forward this season.
Brendan F. Quinn and Nick Baumgardner of MLive Media Group passed along some encouraging news on that front:
John Beilein says Caris LeVert might be one of this team's best rebounders at the moment.— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) August 13, 2014
LeVert isn’t the only player Ohio State fans have to worry about.
Derrick Walton Jr. averaged 7.9 points per game and shot 41 percent from three-point range as a freshman, torching the Buckeyes for 13 points and 10 rebounds in the matchup in Columbus. Zak Irvin was an elite recruit when he arrived on campus and averaged 6.7 points per contest behind 42.5 percent shooting from long range.
With Stauskas and Robinson III out the door, both Walton and Irvin will have more responsibility and freedom on both ends of the floor. That should result in plenty of three-pointers, well-placed passes and defensive pressure.
Don’t overlook freshman Kameron Chatman either. At 6’7”, he is the perfect combination of athleticism, speed and size, and will play a number of different positions for the Wolverines.
With McGary and Jordan Morgan gone, Michigan will be very reliant on the backcourt this year. The Buckeyes’ best chance will be to unleash the defensive pressure they used so effectively in 2013-14, with Scott, Thompson and Russell leading the way.
As long as Ohio State can contain the guards and small forwards, the combination of Williams, Lee, Bates-Diop and Tate will be too much to handle on the boards for the Wolverines.
Having this game in Columbus will also help.
Prediction: Ohio State 73, Michigan 69
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