Let's start by getting the obvious out of the way: no, this game does not count against Ohio State's final 2012-2013 men's basketball record. Yes, this game matters. Exhibition games are critical means for teams of Ohio State's caliber to prepare themselves for the competitive grind of the full regular season. Playing against each other or clandestine scrimmages against other schools is no substitute for the real thing.
Your next bit of somewhat valid skepticism: yes, for as good as Ohio State is, they can lose this game. Syracuse lost to Division II Le Moyne college just three short seasons ago. And the Buckeyes themselves have their own experience falling into the trap of a lesser exhibition foe. Thad Matta's 2007-2008 Buckeyes fell pray to the unsuspecting University of FIndlay, 70-68. That team would go on to win the NIT, but these sort of things aren't impossible. Tune up games or not, it's always within the realm of possibilities you overlook your opposition and they wind up making just one more play than you do...or it's possible you run into a French and/or Brazilian professional side.
Now that we have that unpleasantness out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks. The Ohio State Buckeyes are being projected by the basketball watching media of this country to be a Final Four team. Again. Though Jared Sullinger is on to bigger and better things and Wil Buford is on to, well, things, Big Ten defensive player of the year Aaron Craft is back along with first team preseason AP All-American, Deshaun Thomas. Joining them are fellow returning starter (and defensive guru) Lenzelle Smith Jr.
The other two spots? Well, those are still somewhat in flux. If you replace Buford with a forward for a more traditional lineup, for defense, you probably go Sam Thompson. If offense is what this core group needs, LaQuinton Ross is your man. And as for the big guy to clean up the glass and dish out to Thomas? You get your choice of senior Evan Ravenel or sophomore Amir Williams. Thad Matta said yesterday that he has designs on "using seven or eight different lineups" during the course of this one, so some of the on-court combinations may lend to future starting fives.
So what about the Walsh Cavaliers? Who is this team and why should you care? Ohio State's opponent in this exhibition come from a private Roman Catholic university based in scenic North Canton, Ohio. Their head coach Jeff Young is 224-44 in 8 years as the head man at Walsh. Previously, the team had been an NAIA school participating in the American Mideast Conference, but much as conference realignment has impacted the D1 ranks, the trickle down to the D2/NAIA level swept up Walsh. Walsh is now reclassifying to Division II and joins the prestigious GLIAC, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which includes one division of all teams from Michigan and another with all teams from Ohio. Except Hillsdale College from Hillsdale, Michigan. Ashland, Walsh, etc probably really want to have them expelled from the league. Just spitballing here.
As for the basketball side of things, Walsh loses their leading scorer, Ron Kinney, as well as his running mate L.J. Sutton, but do welcome back some respectable D2 caliber talent. Their "star" likely comes in the form of 6-9 forward, Kenny Kornowski. Kornowski jumped out to a quick start last season for the Cavs before being lost for the year with a knee injury. He's now returned to reclaim his spot in the starting lineup and also to tweet important things like this:
Hash tag Chill night. Also note the prolific Twitter handle, @KKTheWhiteHope. Welcome to C-bus, bro.
Rian Burrell filled in admirably during Kornowski's absence averaging 13.9 points per game and finishing second on the team in steals with 33 an assists with 78. The 13.9 ppg production was good enough for second best on the team overall and earned the Zainesville native a spot on the All-Ohio Independent Championships freshman team. In the Championships, Walsh would take down Cedarville in a thrilling overtime contest, 78-77. Cedarville, people. Cedarville.
And speaking of overtime, who could forget Ohio State's heart wrenching double overtime loss to Siena in the first round of the NCAA tournament back in 2009? Probably not Davonte Beard, a recent transfer from Siena. While Beard didn't become a Saint until two seasons after, one has to imagine now Iowa coach Fran McCaffery recruited Beard and co. on the precipice of such a huge win for that program. Beard lasted in upstate New York for but a season before heading to the midwest to play for Jeff Young. Beard sat out the second semester last year but is eligible now. He got off to a slow start in Walsh's system but has since figured somethings out and continues to grow in his importance to their overall attack.
Another likely impact transfer is Hrvoje Vucic. The 7-1 big man arrives in North Canton after playing for Bryce Drew's Valparaiso Crusaders. The big man may not start for the Cavs, but could against Ohio State to try and give them a size edge. He and Kornowski on the court at the same time likely create some coast-to-coast speed issues, but would give Walsh some legitimate glass presence.
The final member of the probable starting five for the Cavaliers is point guard Brad DuPont. DuPont, another transfer, this time from DII Wheeling Jesuit, helped bridge the transitional process for Walsh last season. He also saw time against Ohio State when the two teams met a year ago putting up 13, mostly with Shannon Scott defending him. He and Burrell have a comfort zone as a backcourt and could prove to be an effective duo against Ohio State. Both are coming off injuries however, with Burrell still recovering from meniscus surgery and DuPont a gash to the head. They both are expected to be ready to go but could be late scratches if need be.
One final name to keep an eye on is JUCO transfer Jordan Walker. Walker's been practicing with the starters and is said to be able to make plays around the basket with relative ease. He can play the three or the four and is said to have a pretty smooth 15 footer.
This game is more important from a procedural standpoint than anything actually gained on the court (other than maybe seeing how different combinations of Buckeyes work together). Ohio State defeated Walsh a year ago 95-49, and particularly with Ron Kinney gone, Kenny Kornowski alone won't be enough for the Cavs to shock the 4th ranked Buckeyes.
Holy Diver. Ohio State 82 - Walsh 55. These are two random numbers I totally came up with on the spot with none of us having seen either of these teams play full length basketball games during the 2012-2013 season yet. I implore you to find a flaw in my logic.