Ohio State had been performing pretty poorly in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge up until recently. They lost each season from 2014-2018, which includes losses to Louisville, Clemson, Syracuse, and two against Virginia. Since then, they’ve won two in a row, beating the breaks off of North Carolina in 2019 and then beating Notre Dame last season. But to make it three in a row on Nov. 30, Ohio State will have to beat one of the all-time greats when Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils travel to Columbus on November 30.
Chris Holtmann has never coached against Krzyzewski, but Ohio State does have a (limited) history against the Blue Devils. They’re 3-4 all-time against Duke, with their most recent meeting coming in the 2012 Big Ten-ACC Challenge, with Duke walking away victorious, 73-68. Holtmann was still the head coach at Gardner-Webb that season, and was five years away from taking the Ohio State job. Coach K was coaching his 33rd season at Duke in 2012.
This season’s matchup, which will take place at Ohio State in the Schottenstein Center, should be on heckuva battle, with loads of interesting sub-plots to follow as we get closer to game day. Duke was not good last year at all, going 13-11 overall in 9-9 in ACC play during a season that was shortened a bit due to COVID-19. The Blue Devils needed to win the ACC Tournament in order to make the NCAA tourney, because their record otherwise was just not impressive, or conducive to an NCAA Tournament ticket. After beating Boston College and Louisville to advance to the ACC quarterfinals, a positive COVID-test forced them out of the ACC Tournament. Their season ended on that note, without ever knowing if they could’ve made a run and punched their ticket to the dance.
Ohio State, as you probably know, did make the NCAA Tournament, but their stay was quite short. After earning a 2-seed, they were promptly out-shot, out-hustled, and flat out out-played by 15th-seeded Oral Roberts in the opening round. The Buckeyes became the answer to many future trivia questions, as their 75-72 loss made them just the ninth team ever to lose to a 15-seed in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Neither program is happy with how their respective seasons ended. One program expects to win championships every single season, while the other program is fighting to create such a standard themselves. It’s been nearly a decade since these two teams have squared off, and tickets to the expected sellout won’t be easy to come by.
With all that said, what all is on the line during this season’s Ohio State-Duke matchup?
Coach K’s final B1G-ACC Challenge
In June, Krzyzewski announced that the upcoming season — his 42nd — will be his final as the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils. The now 74-year old was also the head coach of the Army basketball program before being hired by Duke in 1980, and boasts the most victories ever by a Division-I basketball coach (1,170). After coaching for nearly 50 years, I don’t think Coach K really gives a damn about the “importance” or the “history” of the B1G-ACC Challenge, which has been around for less than 20 years.
But Coach K does love attention, and playing a ranked Ohio State team in front of a sold-out crowd, during his final season, in a game that will absolutely be broadcast on ESPN or CBS, will shine a bright light on both programs — and coaches. It will also be interesting to see the power dynamic between Coach K and the heir to his throne, Jon Scheyer. Scheyer will become the 21st coach of Duke men’s basketball next season, when K has retired.
How much power will Scheyer have this season? Will his responsibilities be the same as they were previously, or will there be an awkward tug-of-war, egotistic battle between himself and Coach K as the season goes on? It’s not common that the head coach and his (announced) replacement work together for a whole season leading up to the changing of the guard. It’s definitely something interesting to keep an eye on.
Ohio State’s experience vs Duke’s five-star freshmen
Duke is the only school in the nation to lock up three five-stars from the 2021 recruiting cycle. Paolo Banchero (No. 2), AJ Griffin (No. 17), and Trevor Keels (No. 22) would all (hypothetically) be the highest-ranked recruit of Chris Holtmann’s tenure, had any of them gone to Ohio State. Coach K locked all three up in the same recruiting class. That’s Duke basketball for you.
On the other side, Ohio State has the second-most experienced team in the nation in terms of career minutes played. Despite losing Duane Washington (3 years experience) and CJ Walker (4 years experience), the Buckeyes added 12 years of experience via the transfer portal in Joey Brunk (Butler/Indiana), Jamari Wheeler (Penn State), and Cedric Russell. Wheeler and Russell will likely start alongside Justice Sueing (RS Senior), Kyle Young (Super Senior), and E.J. Liddell (Junior). These Buckeyes are good, and they are old.
But they’ll be put to the test against this youthful Duke team, who also return junior wing Wendell Moore Jr. and added former Marquette forward Theo John (8.0 PPG) via transfer. Banchero, Keels, and Griffin will likely all start, and could all provide massive matchup problems for the Buckeyes.
Banchero — who allegedly is 18 years old — stands 6-foot-9 and weighs 235 pounds. A terrific rebounder who has fantastic footwork around the basket, he can also step towards the elbow and knock down mid-range jumpers to keep the defense honest. He’s projected by some outlets to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, right in front of Chet Holmgren. Banchero will be the most talented player on the floor that night, and either Liddell or Young will have a fun time trying to limit him.
Blue blood vs new blood?
Duke University is entrenched as one of the known “blue bloods” of college basketball. Fourth all-time with 2,214 wins and five national championships, the Duke brand is synonymous with college hoops. That wasn’t the case before Coach K arrived, however, and it will be interesting if Scheyer can keep up with Duke’s standards when K departs next season. Duke will always be a historical program, but will its current run of dominance seamlessly continue under Scheyer?
On the other side, Ohio State is trying to make that leap from a “very good” program to an elite one. Holtmann has done well thus far, with going 87-44 in four seasons and making the NCAA Tournament every year. However, his Buckeyes are 2-3 in the NCAA Tournament during those four seasons, and have not advanced to the Sweet Sixteen yet or won a conference championship. Last season’s historic NCAA Tournament loss won’t help matters either, but overall, Ohio State pretty much taken up residence in the top-15 of the AP Poll since Holtmann arrived.
he Buckeyes do well in big-time regular season matchups, especially out of conference. They spanked North Carolina by 25 in Chapel Hill two seasons ago. They also ran the Villanova Wildcats straight out of Columbus not too long ago, winning 76-51 in 2019. A victory would be another notch in Holtmann’s belt as far as regular season victories go, but it will be interesting to see if it’s simply a blip on the radar, or a sign that a legitimately dangerous team is brewing in Columbus this season.
NCAA Tournament resume
Regardless of who wins, this game will be a significant badge on each team’s NCAA Tournament resume. Should Duke win, they can boast a non-conference road win over a ranked opponent in a hostile (kind of) environment. That type of win goes a long way to improve tournament seeding.
And if Ohio State wins, a victory over Duke will stand out like sore thumb over their entire schedule. The Blue Devils will be ranked in the top-10 when they visit the Schottenstein Center, plus their brand name alone carries significant weight. I don’t think Ohio State will have to worry “if” they’re going to be in the tournament, but a win vs Coach K’s final Duke team could be the difference between a 2 vs 3 seed, a 1 vs 2 seed, etc.