Last week, we reported that Ohio State basketball would face Mount St.Mary's next season. The matchup with the Mountaineers gives Ohio State seven known games for next year's schedule, with six remaining. While we don't have any new announcements, we have learned a few things over the last week about Ohio State's schedule.
Based on Ohio State's recent scheduling patterns, it would make sense to assume that the Buckeyes would schedule at least one team from the MAC for next year. No MAC games have been signed yet, but there was some message board chatter that the Buckeyes would face Northern Illinois next season. I spoke to two sources at Northern Illinois, and while both confirmed to me that there is no official game yet, they also both confirmed that Ohio State and NIU have discussed a game (the dates discussed were in December), and if one was to happen, a contract for it would get signed later this month. Basketball scheduling is fluid, and nothing is official until the contract is signed, but I personally believe this is likely to happen.
What does that mean for Ohio State? NIU finished 14-16 last season, with an RPI of 188 and a KenPom ranking of 181. Historically, NIU basketball has been pretty bad, as the team hasn't made the NCAAs since the 1995-1996 season (when they were still playing in the Midwestern Collegiate conference), and hasn't had a winning record since 2005-2006. A few seasons ago, NIU was flat out one of the worst teams in college basketball, winning a grand total of 19 games from 2010-2013.
However, there is a palatable sense of optimism around the program. Three of NIU's top five scorers are projected to return, and the Huskies were able to beat the three best teams in the MAC West division. While they're probably unlikely to contend for the MAC's NCAA spot next season, a winning record may not be out of reach. If NIU is able to modestly improve on their computer profile from last season, they'll be a perfectly good non-conference opponent for Ohio State. Anybody who finishes with an RPI over 200 for next year is fine.
NIU would leave five open spots on the schedule, and if that happened, I'd personally think the odds are a little lower than Ohio State schedules a second, in-state MAC team, although that is still possible (I'd bet Horizon league if OSU wants another Buckeye state squad on the slate). Historical trends would indicate that one of those five is likely to be an HBCU, and based on the tournament Ohio State is playing in with Memphis, I'd imagine that at least one game will be with a MEAC team. That would only leave three open spots.
We've talked a lot about the non-conference schedule, but we also know a bit about Ohio State's conference schedule, and that news looks a little different now that we know who is coming back and who is headed to the NBA Draft. We don't know the order or the dates yet, but here is who Ohio State is playing in conference play:
Big Ten home single plays
TBA: Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State
Big Ten road single plays
TBA: Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Nebraska
Big Ten home and homes
TBA: Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers, Northwestern, Michigan State
I think this is a tougher schedule than it looked back in mid February. The likely top four in the Big Ten is going to be Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes will play four of those six games on the road. Ohio State may only get one likely tournament team (Michigan) in their home single play group.
Getting four games against Rutgers and Northwestern is nice (although Northwestern should be improved next season), and the additional games against Maryland, Michigan State and Illinois ought to help the RPI, but probably not Ohio State's chances of a high Big Ten standings finish. There's going to be plenty of chances for quality wins with this schedule though. It'll just be a question of whether Ohio State's young team can mature enough to grab them.
We'll have more updates as we get them. For now though, here's what we know about next year's slate:
2015-2016 Ohio State basketball schedule
Nov. 15 Mount St. Mary's
Nov. 27 Memphis (in Miami)
Dec. 5 or Dec. 6 VMI
Dec. 8. Air Force
Dec. 12 at UConn
Dec. 19 Kentucky (in Brooklyn)
TBA ACC opponent (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)