Football is still happening, but basketball preview season is in full bloom now, as most major outlets are cranking out their preseason Top 25s and conference projections. Late last night, Ken Pomeroy (or KenPom) published his preseason rankings. Any hoophead would do well to bookmark it.
Since basketball hasn't been played yet, all of these rankings are pretty subjective, but the KenPom rankings are different from an ESPN or CBS power poll. Similar to the F/+ and S&P+ rankings Football Outsiders produce, once basketball actually starts, KenPom produces tempo-free efficiency statistics for all of college basketball, producing far more accurate data than say, the RPI (which the selection committee uses), or the BPI, which ESPN made up.
For casual fans, KenPom is especially useful in the non-conference portion of the basketball schedule, since it can help provide a useful shorthand in evaluating low major competition that is common for the first month or so of the year. When your favorite team only beats a Patriot League squad by six, it's useful as a fan if you have a tool to determine if that Patriot League school is a plucky underdog who might be a threat come tournament time, or a better threat to win only seven games. That's where Kenpom can come into play.
So now that Pomeroy ranked every single team in college basketball, what does he say about Ohio State? Or the Big Ten?
KenPom currently projects Ohio State as the 14th best team in the country, and the third best team in the Big Ten, which is where the preseason Big Ten Media Poll had them as well. The Buckeyes are behind Michigan State (No. 12) and Wisconsin (No. 6). For comparison's sake, the USA TODAY preseason media poll has Ohio State 20th, also behind Wisconsin and Michigan State, and 22nd in ESPN's preseason rankings. CBS has the Buckeyes 19th.
If KenPom's preseason rankings are accurate, the Big Ten is going to be absolutely stacked this season. Every single team in the conference is projected to finish in the top 103 (there are 351 teams in D1 hoops), and a whopping 11 of them are projected in the Top 40, far more than any other conference (the closest, the Big 12, has seven). Joining Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State near the top of the rankings are Michigan (15), Indiana (26), Iowa (32), Maryland (33), Nebraska (34) Minnesota (37), Illinois (38) and Purdue (40). Rutgers brings up the rear at 103. Just like like the last few years, the Big Ten projects to be a total dogfight, even with Wisconsin a heavy favorite.
The top line of Ohio State's non-conference schedule is also strong. The Buckeyes will travel to face Louisville in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and the Cardinals check in with a lofty third overall ranking. Ohio State will also face the 20th overall North Carolina Tar Heels in Chicago. Marquette, Ohio State's third power conference opponent, is farther down at 86, a level not typically associated with an NCAA tourney bid, but the Golden Eagles are breaking in a new coach and a new transfer point guard.
With such a meat grinder of a conference schedule, and with two other opportunities to face projected high level competition, and with the Buckeyes counting on so many young players to contribute, perhaps the school thought it didn't make sense to fill the rest of their schedule with difficult teams. Everybody plays some low major schools to open a season, but if KenPom is right, the Buckeyes might be notable in facing a slate of particularly terrible squads.
You don't need to be a statistician to guess that Ohio State's opponent on opening night, UMass-Lowell, is going to be bad this season. How bad though? KenPom projects the River Hawks as the 347th team in the country, or fifth worst. Another Buckeye opponent, North Carolina A&T, is projected as the 15th worst (337). Ohio State will play four teams overall that are projected to be ranked 290th or worse, with Sacred Heart (293) and Campbell (298) the others.
The rest of the out of conference slate isn't that abjectly terrible. Three other squads are ranked between 150-200, so while these teams aren't likely to seriously threaten Ohio State, having them go on a run in their own conferences isn't out of the question, which could provide a nice boost to Ohio State's computer rankings.
Ohio State's non-conference schedule isn't as important as it might be for other teams, given the number of quality win opportunities available in the Big Ten. If Ohio State struggles badly in conference play, and fails to beat either Louisville or UNC, then they could find themselves in an uncomfortable situation (like Utah last season), but it isn't likely. The Buckeye's schedule could be an early season talking point in media circles, but if it provides a chance for Kam Williams, Marc Loving and D'Angelo Russell to get comfortable, there shouldn't be an issue.
The full Ohio State non-conference preseason KenPom rankings are as follows:
Sacred Heart (293)
James Madison (221)
At Louisville (3)
High Point (187)
Morehead State (172)
North Carolina A&T (337)
vs North Carolina (20)
Miami (OH) (225)
Wright State (153)