The Ohio State Buckeyes open their 2012-2013 college basketball campaign in a place where they've never, to this point, dared tread. No, they're not like some SEC school going North to play a football game. Instead, the Buckeyes will travel to beautiful Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina to take on Big East contender Marquette. They will play on hardwood, and they will shoot at 10-foot rims, all with a regulation ball. But the game won't be played in a gym, arena, stadium or otherwise. This game will be played on an aircraft carrier. A real, live, honest-to-goodness ship of war.
Let that sink (no pun intended) in for a second.
The 2012 Carrier Classic will serve as the continuation of a new trend in college basketball, as several teams are taking the Veterans' Day weekend to give some love to our troops on their home turf. Michigan State is playing a game at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Georgetown and Florida are also playing a game on a carrier in Florida. Syracuse and San Diego State are doing the same on the left coast later on in the long weekend. This is a cool trend, and I love the idea of using these basketball "facilities" to showcase not only the sport, but our military as well, and kudos to the teams for agreeing to take part.
Last year, Michigan State and North Carolina did battle (if we can use that word) on the USS Carl Vinson, with the Tar Heels winning a 67-55 contest. That score seems pretty normal if you think about the two teams that played - you'd expect Sparty would keep it a low-scoring affair, and North Carolina, then ranked #1 in the country, would be able to scrape out a win. But one of the most notable things about the game was the effect of the environment on shooting. The GLOBAL PHENOMENON that is Casual Hoya had an interesting note about that:
I frankly have no idea what the conditions will be like on the USS Bataan,but I'm willing to guess that they won't be amenable to long-distance shooting. (The sample size of one game-last year's Carrier Classic, in which North Carolina and Michigan State combined to shoot 6 of 32 from three-suggests it might get ugly.)
The weather report for Friday night in Mt. Pleasant is in the low 50s to upper 40s, and the wind is supposed to be light. The USS Yorktown herself is located right across the harbor from Charleston on the Cooper River. Having been to Charleston many times (and been on board the same USS Yorktown, which is part of a museum complex now) that weather report can vary to a great degree due to the proximity to the water. That could mean colder temperatures and more wind.
This could make things a little interesting for the squads coming into the game, particularly Ohio State. No longer a "live by the three, die by the three" team like they were a few years ago, the Buckeyes must bring a physical, pound-the-paint, inside game against Marquette if they want the easiest road to victory.
In their exhibition game against Walsh last week, we saw a Buckeye team that was about as rusty as the underside of the Yorktown surely is. They shook it off and easily won, but not without raising a few questions along the way. There were some bad things from that game, to be sure: 26% from behind the arc (not horrible, but not all that good, either), a slow start that allowed Walsh to take a decent size lead early, and trouble playing against Walsh's zone. These are minor qualms after a win, even in an exhibition.
The upside of that game is what makes things look a little brighter for tomorrow night's contest. With Marquette no doubt realizing that their shooting might also be affected by the conditions, they will have to play inside with the likes of Sam Thompson and Amir Williams, who had eight blocks between them (12 total for the Buckeyes) against Walsh. At the top of the key, they'll have to deal with All-World defender Aaron Craft, who could steal your Mom from your Dad, and had two thefts against Walsh to go with his six assists. Ohio State's defense was also able to capitalize off of 19 Walsh turnovers, scoring 28 points.
After shaking off the rust against Walsh, the Ohio State defense showed a lot of promise. They'll need that rust to go far, far away to contain Marquette, who despite losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, were still picked to finish in the top half of the loaded Big East table this year. DeShaun Thomas will go a long way in making that happen. Thomas went 25/6 against Walsh, with a point total that could have gone a bit higher had he opted to stay away from three point land, where he went just 1-6. If Thomas can force the game inside, that should be enough to turn the tide (again, no pun intended) and beat Marquette and win this year's Carrier Classic.
The Buckeyes have marquee games this year at Duke, and they welcome to Columbus the Kansas squad that ended their dream season last year. Those games are big. But this game is, too. While it won't be played on ESPN, the game will be a spectacle to behold on NBCSN, and will certainly be one of the highlights of the year for the Buckeyes. If they can sink (pun intended) Marquette's offense and take advantage of their interior abilities, it should be smooth sailing (pun intended here, too) on the Cooper River to begin the maiden voyage (this time, too) of the 2012-2013 Buckeye basketball season.