Yesterday, we reported the teams Ohio State will be playing in their 2015-2016 non-conference schedule. Invariably, this has lead to a popular critique from fans on social media, that the schedule isn't good enough. This critique wasn't really true last year, when the Buckeyes played what may have been their worst schedule in years, and is especially untrue now. Not only is this schedule a solid fit for what the Buckeyes are likely to be this season, it's a good schedule, period.
Do you want to see Ohio State play elite teams? You're in luck. The Buckeyes are playing Kentucky on Dec. 19, and that's about as elite as you can get, even though the Wildcats sent about 70 players to the NBA draft this season. Ohio State also hosts Virginia on Dec. 1st. Both of those teams finished in the top ten of the RPI last season, and will likely be in the AP Top 10 when they face Ohio State. Those are two excellent, high level basketball teams.
Ohio State typically plays three "name" teams a season, but next year, they get four, as the Buckeyes also face Memphis in Miami, and travel to UConn for the first leg of a home and home. Those are two blue blood programs that should be significantly better than they were last season, and will be challenging for NCAA spots. Both teams were in the top 100 of the RPI last year (81 and 89, respectively), and an improvement on both seems like a safe bet.
Do you want to see Ohio State play interesting mid and low major teams? They have that, too. The Buckeyes will face Louisiana Tech, who wasn't just a good team for a one-bid league last season, they were good, period. The Bulldogs won 27 games, went deep into the NIT, and were impressive enough that Florida decided to hire their head coach. It's probable Louisiana Tech takes a step back next season, but they'll still be in the thick of the Conference USA race, and could potentially upset Ohio State.
The Buckeyes also play VMI, an improving team that plays a relentless, fast-paced system that will at least lead to lots of points and compelling television. They play Mercer, who is recently removed from a memorable NCAA upset and should be in the upper half of their conference, and they also play Air Force, from the ultra competitive Mountain West.
Only five teams on Ohio State's schedule had an RPI below 200 last season. Mercer (209), Air Force (246), VMI (284), South Carolina State (321), and Grambling (351). There's no getting around the fact that SC State and Grambling are very bad teams (Grambling was the worst team in the entire country last season), but if the rest of the slate records similar performances to last season, they'll give Ohio State a few tests without torpedoing their computer record. The Buckeyes have to play a large number of home games for budget reasons, and if that means that a few dogs end up on the schedule to make the math work out, that's probably just fine.
It's worth noting that this Ohio State team could benefit from a few tune-up games, since they're going to be exceptionally young. Three of Ohio State's four projected potential ball handlers are freshman, and the other is a redshirt sophomore. Not a single one of Ohio State's three projected big men have played a game for Ohio State before. There is only a single upperclassman on the entire roster. Ohio State will be depending on a lot of their points and other production from true freshman, redshirt freshman and others who have barely played, and tossing them all directly into the gauntlet seems like a recipe for disaster.
And that gauntlet is coming, since Big Ten play should be especially bruising for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have to play Maryland twice, a team that will be a preseason top five squad, if not number one. They play Michigan State twice, a team that has bedeviled them as of late and will compete for a conference title. They must play Indiana, Wisconsin and Purdue all on the road. They get two games against a feisty Illinois team. There are going to be lots of opportunities for the Buckeyes to face top 100 teams, if not top 50 teams, and there isn't a need to necessarily stack their December slate with elite teams to help their NCAA chances.
The argument that Ohio State is poorly prepared for Big Ten play because of their out of conference schedule doesn't make too much sense to me. Even when the Buckeyes haven't played much of a slate, they still typically face at least two very strong opponents, and even if the Buckeyes were shocked in an early Big Ten play due to lack of preparation, virtually every Big Ten team is a strong squad, and they'd get themselves prepared pretty quickly. Teams don't lose games in February because they didn't see enough strong teams in November. Not when they spent all January playing tough teams.
The only real complaint, in my mind, is that once again, Ohio State doesn't have a great home non-conference schedule. Kentucky and Memphis will be played at neutral sites, and UConn is on the road, so Virginia will be the only big name team to visit Columbus before league play. That's disappointing, although not totally unexpected. The 2016-2017 slate could be a little better, as Ohio State will host UConn, and will also likely host a Gavitt game with the Big East. Ohio State will also play UCLA in Las Vegas, and will likely play a road game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Those looking for another elite game on OSU's schedule will probably need to wait until the 2017-2018 season.
If Ohio State struggles this season, it isn't because of the names on the schedule in November and December. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch those games, since Ohio State will be playing some interesting teams, and if they get some wins, they'll be in a good position for March.