Even though many college sports schedules are determined years in advance, especially as it pertains to inter-conference matchups and contracts, the 2023-24 NCAA Men’s Basketball season is still having some of the details hashed out just five months before it’s set to start.
News broke last week that the Ohio State Buckeyes will spend part of their Thanksgiving Break in sunny Florida this upcoming season as part of the Emerald Coast Classic held in Destin on the panhandle.
The Buckeyes will have something to prove this season after a dismal 2022-23 campaign that saw them go 16-19 on the season, including a pitiful 5-15 in Big Ten play. Ohio State played a respectable out of conference slate, working a Top 25 rating for four separate weeks in December and early January before promptly falling to pieces as conference play began.
ESPN NCAA Basketball pundit Joe Lunardi likes the Buckeyes to bounce back this year, though, listing them as one of the Last Four In, forced to play for a tournament berth ahead of the Round of 64.
For fans concerned that Ohio State will put in another flash in the pan out of the conference slate, the Buckeyes will have to pass a major test in the Emerald Coast Classic. Their first matchup in that tournament is against the Alabama Crimson Tide, who Lunardi likes to secure a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s early yet, and the odds could shift quite a bit as the dust from the transfer portal settles (which makes now a better time than ever to lock in lopsided betting lines), but as of right now Alabama has roughly the tenth-best odds of winning it all, listed at +2200, compared to Ohio State’s +6600, good for No. 29.
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Here’s a look at how the Buckeyes match up with the Tide, as well as other storylines to keep an eye on when the team has their first chance at winning a tournament championship in the upcoming season.
Four of Alabama’s players declared for the NBA Draft following the conclusion of their season, giving them some time to test the waters and see if they have a chance of getting picked by a team this July. Guard Mark Sears has until May 31 to withdraw his name from the draft and return to the team should he decide that he wants another season to prepare for the pros, so we’ll get a better look at how this matchup could turn out once the deadline passes. Rumors swirled for a while that Tide center Charles Bediako could decide to pull out of the draft, but he doubled down last week to say that he wouldn’t return to the program.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, are losing just one player to the big leagues, with one-and-done forward Brice Sensabaugh a likely first round pick. Ohio State added three players via the transfer portal, Baylor guard Dale Bonner, Minnesota forward Jamison Battle and Penn State forward Evan Mahaffey. It’s always nice to snipe players away from conference rivals, as they did with Battle and Mahaffey, but the Buckeyes also lost three players to the portal so the moves balance out.
Bonner served as a key bench player for the Bears in each of the past two years and Battle averaged 12.4 points per game as a starter for the Golden Gophers, while Mahaffey got some good playing time in State College as a true freshman. It’ll be interesting to see how the new players fit in, and the Emerald Coast Classic will be a great early test as they do so against one of the top teams in the country: even if they probably won’t win, iron sharpens iron and a developing team will gain critical experience.
Ohio State Remains a Top Contender Despite Key Departures
Ohio State is still near the top of the way-too-early college football playoff rankings, but the Buckeyes have some big shoes to fill after losing several key players to the NFL Draft.
Quarterback C.J. Stroud, offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba were all first-round picks, and defensive end Zach Harrison, offensive tackle Dawand Jones, and center Luke Wypler could also be drafted in the first few rounds.
Despite the losses, Ohio State has a history of reloading after losing key players. In 2022, the Buckeyes lost star receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson to the NFL Draft, but they still finished the season 11-2 and made it to the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State will need to find a new quarterback to replace Stroud, and the offensive line will need to be rebuilt. However, the Buckeyes have a talented roster, and coach Ryan Day is a proven winner.
The Buckeyes’ biggest challenge will be beating Michigan. The Wolverines have won two of the last three games in the rivalry, and they will be looking to make it three in a row in 2023.
Ohio State will also need to avoid letdowns against Penn State, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin. All three of those teams are ranked in the top 20 in the way-too-early college football playoff rankings.
If Ohio State can overcome its key departures and beat its rivals, the Buckeyes will be a contender for the national championship in 2023.
Quarterback Kyle McCord has set the bar high for the Buckeyes in 2023, saying that it’s a championship-or-bust season.
That’s a lofty goal, but it’s not out of reach for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a talented roster, and they’re coming off a season in which they were a missed field goal away from playing in the national championship game.
Here are three reasons why Ohio State could hit the over in 2023:
- Experienced quarterback. McCord is entering his third season as a starter, and he has a wealth of experience under his belt. He’s shown that he can lead the Buckeyes to victory, and he’s only going to get better.
- Deep receiving corps. Ohio State has one of the deepest receiving corps in the country. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are gone, but the Buckeyes still have plenty of talent at the position. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a star, and Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming are both talented young players.
- Solid defense. Ohio State’s defense was a bit of a liability in 2022, but it should be much improved in 2023. The Buckeyes have a lot of young talent on defense, and they’ll be led by defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, who has a proven track record of developing defensive players.
If Ohio State can stay healthy and play up to its potential, it should be a contender for the Big Ten title and a playoff spot in 2023.