The Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team is ready to bury the memories of last season as they prepare to open up their 2016-17 campaign today versus the Navy Midshipmen in Annapolis. The game is part of the Veterans Classic, played on Veterans Day for the last three years. This matchup is just the second all-time meeting between the two schools, with Navy having defeated Ohio State in 1932, 35-32. That’s a basketball score, we promise.
The last season was rough by any stretch due to a combination of a tough schedule, youth and inexperience and injuries at key points in the season. It ultimately ended in an anticlimactic fashion, with the Buckeyes losing to Florida in the second round of the NIT by a score of 74-66. Then three of the four remaining true freshmen on the team left for other programs at the conclusion of the season. With anemic performances and a distinct lack of hustle from several players, the Buckeyes looked much worse for wear as they headed into the offseason.
Still, while last season was disappointing in many ways for Ohio State, this year could be their best shot at a strong season for several years to come. With most of last year’s incoming freshman class having transferred--a class loaded with four-star recruits--Ohio State is leaning heavily on upperclassmen to carry the load. Marc Loving, the de facto leader of last year’s team who led the Buckeyes in scoring with 14 points per game, is now a senior. Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, who were second and third on the team in scoring respectively last season, return for their third season with the Buckeyes. Entering his second season at Ohio State, expectations are also high for sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle--the only player in his class to return to the Buckeyes after last season.
Beyond this core group, the Buckeyes return their two other top-scorers from the 2015-16 season. They just missed out on being ranked in the AP preseason poll for this year, with five Big Ten teams ranked ahead of them in the initial poll. They also bring in a talented recruiting class which includes forward Derek Funderburk and center Micah Potter.
Last year’s squad failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, and finished the season with a disappointing loss to Florida in the NIT. With troubling nonconference losses to the likes of UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, even a strong midseason run could not make up for the lack of consistency from the team. With many of the issues of last season being attributed to youth and inexperience, the Buckeyes will need to improve their chemistry and mature as a team if they hope to make the Big Dance this season.
This season’s nonconference schedule, at first glance, looks to be much tougher last year, and even playing Navy in Annapolis on Veteran’s Day could be a taller order than expected for the Buckeyes. Navy finished last season with a 19-14 record, fifth in the Patriot League, under sixth-year head coach Ed DeChellis. They return Shawn Anderson, their top scorer from last season, but lost their next three offensive weapons to graduation.
Ohio State has a long road ahead--including a tough nonconference schedule and a trying run through the Big Ten--if they have hopes of making the NCAA Tournament come March. But it all starts tonight in Annapolis.
Numbers to know
Ohio State is 12-0 in season openers under Thad Matta since he took over the program in 2004 (they had lost in 2003 to San Francisco in Jim O’Brien’s final term as head coach), and are looking to make it 13-straight as they prepare to face Navy. Still, Ohio State rarely opens the season with a true road game, and their record is just 12-7 all-time in such matchups. Overall, Matta is 320-108 in his tenure with the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s adjusted defensive proficiency was among the highest in the nation in recent years under the tutelage of assistant coach Jeff Boals, who left the program after last season to become the head coach of Stony Brook. With Boals now departed, it will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes are able to maintain their high level of defensive prowess.
Ohio State’s BPI, or Basketball Power Index rank, according to ESPN, which takes into account percentage of roster returning, previous performance of those members, recruiting rankings and past coaching performance. The Buckeyes may have missed out on the AP Poll, but with the vast majority of last year’s scoring offense returning, they remain more of a known and formidable entity than many ranked teams.
Cast of characters
The only senior on the Ohio State roster, Loving returns as the leading scorer for the Buckeyes, having averaged 14 points per game last season. After playing very much a background role for his first two years at Ohio State, Loving stepped up his game last season and became a leader for the Buckeyes on and off the court.
Perhaps the most relevant pro-prospect for the Buckeyes, Tate finished last season with 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Last year, he was one of Ohio State’s most accurate shooters, averaging 52.1 percent from the field. After sitting out the last seven games of the season due to injury, Tate can come back and bring rhythm to an offense which lacked consistency without him at the end of last season.
One of just two returning starters from last year’s team, the junior guard started all 33 games for the Midshipmen last season, and was their leading scorer with 13.2 points per game. He came on strong at the end of last season, scoring double-figures through his last eight games.
The senior guard played in 30 games last season, and, despite averaging under seven points per game, led the Midshipmen in both steals, with 35 on the season, and three-pointers with 40. He was limited in his role last season, owing to a knee injury, but is expected to play a much larger part for the Midshipmen this year.
How to watch
Game time: 9 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 FM
TV: CBS Sports Network
Streaming: CBS Sports Network