Every year, the Ohio State roundballers may as well start out playing in a bakery, because their opponents typically are cupcakes as far as the eye can see. The Buckeyes work out the kinks, figure out what kind of rotation they might use, and beat the living snot out of the directional schools, the acronym schools, and the schools with “St.” in their name.
All of that ends, though, when Ohio State plays in the annual Big Ten-ACC challenge. Then, the Buckeyes play a real, live, major conference foe, often on the road, and don’t win just because they have better athletes. Then, finally, the Buckeyes need to run an effective offense, need to close the passing lanes and keep their hands up on defense, and need to protect the ball when they are coming up-court.
This year the abrupt change from cupcake-land to ball-busting opponent is even more pronounced than normal, because Ohio State has drawn Louisville in the Big Ten-ACC challenge. Wait a minute, you say — Louisville in the ACC? You’re right, it’s weird — but not as weird as Maryland, a founding member of the ACC, competing in the Big Ten-ACC challenge for the Big Ten.
Anyway, this will be a very tough game for the Buckeyes. Ohio State starts three seniors, but they really are fielding a young team that consists largely of freshman. The newbies have never played in an atmosphere like Louisville — much less faced the kind of withering pressure the Cardinals typically bring to bear. And while the Buckeyes have played ten deep, what kind of depth do they have, really, when they are matched up against other elite players who will try to run them ragged?
I don’t know how Ohio State will fare when the tip occurs at 9:30 tonight, but I do know this: I’m glad to see the Buckeyes play a tough team that will challenge them for the whole 40 minutes. This is the kind of game that will serve Ohio State well when the young Buckeyes go on the road in the always-tough Big Ten. If the Buckeyes can represent and bring home a win for the Big Ten, so much the better.