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Ranking Ohio State men’s basketball’s non-conference games from easiest to hardest

The Buckeyes’ non-conference schedule has a heavy SEC and MAC flare to it this season.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

College football is back (bless the heavens for that) but can you believe we’re only two months away from college basketball, too? That’s right, it’s been five whole months since we watched the Connecticut Huskies dominate San Diego State en route to winning their fifth national championship in program history.

A few weeks prior to that, the Ohio State Buckeyes saw their season end at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal. After a nasty season that saw the Buckeyes go 13-17 in the regular season and finish in 13th place in the Big Ten, they advanced to the second-to-last round of the conference tournament, where their run finally ended.

They became the first team in Big Ten history to play on Wednesday and make it all the way to Saturday — many people are saying that the “playing on Wednesday” part makes that accomplishment moot. That’s here nor there.

We’re on the doorstep of Buckeye men’s basketball returning, and the non-conference schedule is once again sprinkled with both daunting challenges and cupcake “buy” games. Below, I’ve ranked each of Ohio State’s 10 non-conference opponents, starting with the game I see as the easiest and working down to the most difficult.

I did not include Ohio State’s second-round matchup in the Emerald Coast Classic, as their opponent is determined based on how they fare against Alabama on the first day. The Buckeyes will take on one of Oregon or Santa Clara on day two.

10) Western Michigan

  • Nov. 19 in Columbus
  • Record last season: 8-23
  • KenPom rank last season: 323

This is a team that finished dead last in the MAC last season and then lost its top three scorers. Their top returning scorer is fifth-year senior Titus Wright, who averaged 8 points per game last season. They’ve added Texas A&M’s Javonte Brown via transfer as well, but the Buckeyes should have no problem with the Broncos come November.

9) Merrimack

  • Nov. 15 in Columbus
  • Record last season: 18-16
  • KenPom rank last season: 309

Merrimack became the talk of the town in March, as they won the Northeast Conference title and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament. However, they couldn’t go since the program was on probation still since they jumped up from Division II to Division I recently and were therefore ineligible for postseason play according to the NCAA.

This team was absolutely plundered by the transfer portal, with their top three scorers choosing to use their remaining eligibility elsewhere. Joe Gallo has proven to be a competent enough coach, but this roster is bare. They’ll be cashing a nice check for playing in Columbus.

8) Central Michigan

  • Nov. 29 in Columbus
  • Record last season: 10-21
  • KenPom rank last season: 334

Another team that saw most of its nucleus leave in the transfer portal, the Chippewas finished in a three-way tie for ninth in the MAC last season. They lost three of their top four scorers a season ago, including MAC Freshman of the Year Reggie Bass, who transferred to inter-conference rival Kent State.

However, CMU does return senior guard Brian Taylor and his 14.4 points per game. They’ve also added Tulsa transfer Anthony Pritchard, who should form at least a competent backcourt with Taylor. This is another game the Buckeyes should win big, but the Chippewas could have a moment or two during the game.

7) New Orleans

  • Dec. 21 in Columbus
  • Record last season: 12-20
  • KenPom rank last season: 332

If you’re looking for the part of the list where teams actually have a nonzero chance to upset Ohio State, I would start here. The Privateers return all four of their top scorers from a season ago, which includes senior guard Jordan Johnson and his 18 PPG, as well as 6-foot-9, 250-pound center Tyson Jackson, who averaged 11.4 PPG and shot 61.9% overall from the floor.

New Orleans was No. 330 in adjusted defense last season, and eventually, Ohio State will outrun them and pull away in this game. But the Privateers have some shotmakers, and it wouldn’t shock me if this game was still competitive at halftime. Johnson in particular could be a problem. He shot 48% from three last season and scored 20+ points nine separate times.

This is a team that shot 38% from downtown last season. Ohio State will need to weather a potential barrage of deep shots, but eventually, the law of averages will prevail and I don’t think this one will be particularly close.

6) Oakland

  • Nov. 6 in Columbus
  • Record last season: 13-19
  • KenPom rank last season: 272

Trey Townsend is a 6-foot-6, 230-pound power forward who averaged 16.5/7.6/1.5 last year, shot 39% from beyond the arc, and averaged 36 minutes per game. He will probably give Ohio State some problems, and it won’t matter who gets stuck on him — Jamison Battle, Devin Royal, Zed Key, it won’t matter.

Oakland lost two of their top three scorers from a year ago to graduation, but return Townsend and senior guard Blake Lampman (10 PPG). They’ve also got former Michigan State guard Rocket Watts on the team, following stops in East Lansing and at Mississippi State.

Also, you don’t coach at this level for 39 years if you don’t know what you’re doing. Greg Kampe has amassed over 400 wins at the Division-I level with Oakland, and another 250+ when they were D-II. He is one of the great basketball minds we have in the sport right now, and I’d be a little surprised if he didn’t come in with a strong game plan to challenge the Buckeyes — at least in the first half.

5) Miami (OH)

  • Dec. 5/6 in Columbus
  • Record last season: 12-20
  • KenPom rank last season: 268

I debated on flipping Miami and Oakland in this spot, but I like that the Redhawks returned three of their top four scorers from last season and are coached by Travis Steele, who has experience at the high major level from when he led the Xavier program (2018-2022).

The fourth-leading scorer in program history, Mekhi Lairy, is gone. But the Redhawks return senior guard/Columbus-native Morgan Safford (15. PPG, 5.4 REB), senior center Anderson Mirambeaux (14.3 PPG, 5.7 REB), and sophomore guard Ryan Mabrey (8.4 PPG). I like that core and feel that even small steps forward by Safford and Mirambeaux could turn them into one of the better 1-2 combos in the MAC.

Both Safford and Mirambeaux could give Ohio State problems, but ultimately it will take more than just those two guys going off for Miami to pull off a historic upset in Columbus.


  • Dec. 16 at 3:00 p.m. in Atlanta (CBS Sports Classic)
  • Record last season: 31-6
  • KenPom rank last season: 3

From this point on, I wouldn’t bat an eye if the Buckeyes lost any of these games.

Last season’s UCLA team was historically great, winning 30 games and taking home the PAC-12 championship. But to say that roster was gutted would be an insult to guts everywhere. Last year’s UCLA team is gone — there are very few recognizable faces.

The Bruins lost each of their top five scorers from last year to the NBA Draft and/or pro contracts. 6-foot-10 Nigerian big man Adem Bona (7.7 PPG, 5.3 REB) will have to take a big step forward on the offensive end, as he’s already one of the best interior defenders in college basketball after just one year. Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews averaged 3.3 points in roughly 11 minutes per game last season, and he’ll have a hefty load on his shoulders running the show.

Mick Cronin has proven himself as a wiley coach who’s been able to milk every bit of defensive talent out of his recent teams. I think Ohio State has the leg-up in this one, but I don’t think it’ll be easy.

3) West Virginia

  • Dec. 30 in Cleveland
  • Record last season: 19-15
  • KenPom rank last season: 19

What a wild off-season, huh? West Virginia lost its top six scorers from last season to graduation/transfer, and its head coach resigned in disgrace (or not?) after being charged with a DUI — not to mention what he said on the radio shortly before that.

But even after all of that, it seems like the Mountaineers' roster might be in a better spot than it was one year ago.

Bob Huggins and his staff killed it in the transfer portal, adding Kerr Kriisa (Arizona), Raequan Battle (Montana State), Jesse Edwards (Syracuse), and Noah Farrakhan (Eastern Michigan). Even after Huggins resigned, assistant coach Josh Eilert was able to hold it all together and was named the interim head coach.

Ohio State probably has the better collective unit, but West Virginia should be a strong early test for the Buckeyes.

2) Alabama

  • Nov. 24 at 7:00 p.m. in Niceville, Florida (Emerald Coast Classic)
  • Record last season: 31-6
  • KenPom rank last season: 4

Few high-major teams — if any — faced the kind of roster turnover that Nate Oats did this offseason. Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney are both off to the league after being drafted in the 2023 NBA Draft. Mark Sears is back, but Jahvon Quinerly (transfer, Memphis), Jaden Bradley (transfer, Arizona) and Charles Bediako (Draft, undrafted) are gone as well.

Rising sophomore Rylan Griffen will be looked at as an integral piece, as will newcomers Aaron Estrada (Hofstra transfer), Grant Nelson (North Dakota State transfer), and four-star freshman Jarin Stevenson.

Oats might have an SEC-championship caliber team on his hands. He may also have a talented conglomerate of players that won’t click together. This game will be tough at the Emerald Coast Classic — I give the benefit of the doubt to Oats based on his recent track record of success.

1) Texas A&M

  • Nov. 10 in Columbus
  • Record last season: 25-10
  • KenPom rank last season: 33

Here’s the big one. The Buckeyes and Aggies have agreed to a home-and-home series that starts this season in Columbus and will return to College Station next year. Texas A&M fell in the SEC Championship game and finished second in the league overall last season. They bring back four of their five starters, including Wade Taylor (16.3 PPG, 3.9 AST) and Tyrece Radford (13.3 PPG, 5.3 REB). A top-40 offense and top-50 defense last season according to KenPom, the Aggies were one of the nastier and more physical teams in the country.

The matchup between Taylor and Bruce Thornton will be a fun one to watch, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Aggies walk into Columbus and made their way home with a huge non-conference victory. A&M is the basketball equivalent of a college football team that runs the ball with a strong offensive line, leaning on you all day long until you eventually fall. They will test the Buckeyes’ physicality like few other teams will, and they won’t have much time to prepare for it.