You are lying if you try to tell me that you saw this year’s Ohio State basketball team being this damn good. After losing leading scorer Kaleb Wesson to the NBA and a number of other significant contributors from last year’s squad to graduation or transfers, there were a ton of question marks surrounding this season’s Buckeye roster. Duane Washington Jr. had shown flashes in his first two years, and E.J. Liddell started to really come on at the end of his freshman campaign, but could those two guys really be counted on to shoulder the load heading into 2020-21?
The answer to that question has been a resounding yes. While this version of Ohio State doesn’t run through one single star like they did with Wesson, both Liddell and Washington have been excellent for a Buckeyes unit getting contributions from pretty much everyone on the floor. Liddell leads the team in scoring with his 15.4 points per game to go along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game, while Washington adds 14.6 points per contest and is second on the team with 3.1 assists per game.
What Chris Holtmann’s team lacks in star power, they make up for in having a deep, talented group of guys who know their role. Justice Sueing has been excellent for Ohio State this season, scoring 10.9 points per game with 5.7 boards as well while also taking over some of the ball-handling duties while CJ Walker was out with injury. Justin Ahrens has been one of the best three-point shooters in the country, hitting 48.8% from beyond the arc on the season. Kyle Young has been his usual gritty self, second on the team with 5.9 rebounds per contest and providing a strong defensive presence underneath the rim.
The scary part is that Ohio State can continue to get even better. Seth Towns has slowly worked his way back from a two-year knee injury, looking more and more comfortable with each passing game. Zed Key has really turned heads in his freshman season, as his stellar play as well as his finger guns have captured the heart of the fan base, while Meechie Johnson is starting to come into his own as a late addition to the team who should be playing his senior year of high school ball. The Buckeyes are beginning to put it all together, and it has put them right at the top of the national conversation.
Ohio State is now No. 8 in the country in the latest NET rankings, the primary tool for selection and seeding in the NCAA Tournament. At 15-4, the Buckeyes have the most Quad 1 wins of any team in the country with seven, and they are also the only school with five or more wins over ranked teams. In fact, dating back to last season, Ohio State has now won six-straight games over AP Top 10 teams, culminating in last night’s impressive 89-85 victory over the No. 8 Iowa Hawkeyes.
Holtmann has put together quite the resumé this season, as his team now sits just one game behind Michigan for first place in the Big Ten with a head-to-head matchup against the Wolverines looming in a couple weeks. The Buckeyes have already knocked off No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 14 Illinois — both on the road — while twice defeating a top-15 Rutgers team in addition to Thursday’s huge win over Iowa. Ohio State will almost certainly be ranked in the AP Top-5 when the new rankings come out on Monday, and their quest for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is not unrealistic.
Ohio State still has five Quad 1 games remaining on the schedule in Maryland, Penn State, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois — in that order. Three of those teams they have already beaten this year, and the Buckeyes are in great position according to Bracketology’s Joe Lunardi. Currently, Lunardi has Ohio State as a No. 2 seed, and the No. 5 team overall — just one spot out from a top seed. Gonzaga and Baylor likely have their spots already locked up, so the Buckeyes will be fighting Michigan (No. 3 overall according to Lunardi) and Alabama (No. 4) for one of the two remaining No. 1 seeds.
Could it be done? Absolutely. If Ohio State can win the majority of the remaining games on its schedule, they will have one of the best resumés of any team in college basketball. There are a bunch of tough opponents on the horizon, but the Buckeyes are playing some of their best basketball at the right time. As the great Jon Rothstein would say, this is ONLY February.
While the basketball team is the talk of the town right now, Ohio State football always has the ability to make its way into the headlines even during the offseason. On Friday afternoon, the Big Ten released an updated version of the 2021 schedule. As of right now, the conference is still planning to move forward with a largely-normal 12-game slate including non-conference games, and Friday’s revision was really just to move some matchups around and perhaps change some venues to make up for cancellations during the 2020 season.
One of the big changes people were looking for, myself included, was whether or not the Big Ten would change the location of the Ohio State-Michigan game in 2021. The Buckeyes were supposed to host the Wolverines in Columbus in 2020, but a COVID-19 outbreak in Ann Arbor caused the game to be cancelled. Some were expecting the B1G to give Ohio State its home game back in 2021, but that is not the case, as this year’s edition of The Game will still be played in the Big House as originally scheduled.
The most significant change for the Buckeyes is the movement of the Penn State game. Ohio State was originally slated to play the Nittany Lions on Nov. 20, but that matchup has now been moved to Oct. 30. The Big Ten now has Ryan Day’s squad playing Michigan State on Nov. 20 instead, avoiding Ohio State having to play Penn State and Michigan back-to-back at the end of the regular season.
None of the venues for Ohio State have changed, as everything that was scheduled to be home or away has remained the way it was. There were, however, a few more games shifted around the schedule. The Buckeyes will play at Rutgers on Oct. 2 (originally at Nebraska) and host Maryland on Oct. 9 (originally Purdue). They will then travel to Indiana on Oct. 23 (originally at Rutgers) and travel to Nebraska on Nov. 6 (originally at Indiana). The Purdue game was moved to Nov. 13, which was originally Maryland.
Ohio State will open its season on Thursday, Sept. 2 at Minnesota, and will host Oregon to open the non-conference slate the following week. The Buckeyes off-week remains scheduled for Oct. 16. OSU will also host Akron and Tulsa to close out its non-conference opponents in 2021.