The Case For an Ohio Hardwood Classic

By John Brandon on July 16, 2014 at 3:17p

Many Ohio natives, Buckeye and non-Buckeye fan alike, would agree that the Ohio universities don’t play each other enough.

Sure, there are exceptions. Ohio State will host Cincinnati this year – in football, not basketball. Unlike football, hoops schedules are flexible, allowing the Buckeyes to play 10-15 non-conference games every year.Even so, Ohio State has not played one of the other main Ohio basketball schools (Cincinnati, Dayton and Xavier) in a regular season game since 2007.

Ohio State would rather not play its in-state rivals in the postseason, but somehow it has crossed paths with all three of them in the NCAA tournament. As we saw with Dayton this year and Xavier in 2007 the smaller Ohio schools badly want to one-up the Buckeyes.

An early season basketball tournament of Ohio's major teams would give the people what they want, and make the Buckeyes less likely to run into a team like Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. Despite these benefits, the schedule-makers don't seem to think this is enough reason to create a preseason tournament.

Consider this a pitch for a new preseason basketball tournament that I'm calling the Ohio Hardwood Classic.


The format for the Ohio Hardwood Classic is simple: a two-round, four-team event in which the winners of the first round play in the championship and losers play in the third-place game. Most regular season tournaments, like the Maui Classic or Preseason NIT, share this format.

This year, the tournament would feature Ohio State-Dayton and Cincinnati-Xavier as its first round matchups. An OSU-Dayton rematch would revisit one of the best games of the NCAA Tournament, and Cincinnati-Xavier is one of the better (and heated) rivalries in college hoops. If the favorites advanced, we would see an Ohio State-Cincinnati matchup that would likely feature two top-25 teams.

While the four-team tournament might occasionally exclude some the state's best teams from competing – the Ohio Bobcats made the Sweet 16 in 2012 – it’s the best way to ensure quality matchups and peak publicity for the event. Maybe the tournament will gain enough prestige for Ohio basketball to warrant expansion, but for now it stays at four.


The Ohio Hardwood Classic could be held in a few different venues; Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, The Schottenstein Center in Columbus, University of Dayton Arena, or the Cintas Center or Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati. Based on the four teams participating, It would probably have to be in Columbus or Cincinnati.

Hosting a basketball tournament in Cleveland when Ohio State and three southwestern Ohio schools are competing would deflate attendance. Sure, there are Buckeye fans in Cleveland, but do Cincinnati fans want to drive four hours to a neutral site game?

The venue can be determined year-by-year. For this year, let's host it in Columbus. The Schottenstein Center is reasonably convenient and holds about 6,000 more people than Cincinnati's largest venue, Fifth Third Arena.

Stirring Up Excitement

Ohio State, Cincinnati, Dayton and Xavier all have strong basketball programs and varying degrees of rivalry. Though they are within two hours of each other, the latest round of conference realignment left them in four different conferences. By bringing them together, the event would generate a great deal of cross-conference interest and excitement.

Ohio State has played Xavier only once in the past 10 years, an overtime thriller that nearly spoiled Ohio State’s 2007 Final Four run in the round of 32. The local buzz of a potential rematch could create a great deal of excitement, and the storylines would be endless.

The story is the same with Dayton. The Buckeyes and Flyers have played twice in the past 10 years, both in the postseason. In 2008 the Buckeyes beat Dayton the NIT, and of course in this year's NCAA tournament Dayton upset Ohio State.

Cincinnati and Ohio State have played twice since 2006. Though the Buckeyes won both by double digits they were entertaining, and the Sweet 16 game in 2012 was a callback to the 1961 and 1962 national championship games.

Using KenPom’s “Thrill Score,” a metric that places a value on the quality and entertainment of basketball games, I compiled numbers from the past few of these matchups and here’s what I found (note: KenPom does not publish the actual Thrill Score after the games; this is an approximation).

Game Pre-Game Thrill Score Actual Thrill Score Margin of victory/Defeat
Ohio State vs. Dayton (2014 NCAA Tourney) 60.8 68 1
Ohio State vs. Cincinnati (2012 NCAA Tourney) 58 55 15
Ohio State vs. Xavier (2007 NCAA Tourney) N/A 78 7 (OT)
Dayton vs. Xavier (2011-2013 Average) 53.8 56 5.6
Cincinnati vs. Xavier (2011-2013 Average) 50.6 42.2 18.8
Ohio State vs. Big Ten (2014 Average) 54.1 55.1 8.5

The Big Ten was one of the top two basketball conferences this year, and certainly the most exciting. Every game that has featured Ohio State and either Cincinnati, Dayton or Xavier in the last 10 years has been at least as good as the average Big Ten game Ohio State played in this past year. Even against Cincinnati and a couple of mid-majors, an Ohio Hardwood Classic would be very high-level basketball.

It's not just Ohio State that would benefit. Until Xavier joined the Big East, the Musketeers played Dayton at least twice every year in the Atlantic 10. Most of these games were excellent, averaging a Thrill Score of about 56, at or above the level of Big Ten action.

Cincinnati and Xavier used to be in the same conference, and now they play once a year. While these teams do still meet every year, there's no reason why they couldn't play again; Ohio State and Michigan usually play twice per year. Although recent games have been blowouts in each direction, they always generate excitement and the potential for another rivalry game would be fun for the city of Cincinnati.

How many of Ohio State's non-conference games this past season were on the level of a Big Ten game? One.

Only three of Ohio State's non-conference games this past season were against major conference opponents: Marquette, Maryland, and Notre Dame. How many of Ohio State's non-conference games this past season were on the level of a Big Ten game? One.

Adding two more quality games is beneficial for all parties. The four teams involved get a strength of schedule bump and an chance for a valuable win; fans get to replace a couple 30-point snoozers with close games against teams they care about. And that's before we get into the Ohio Hardwood Classic's financial and recruiting value.


Ohio State's average home attendance this year was 16,474, 87.6% capacity; compare that to the Big Ten's average attendance of 13,534. This March, Ohio State played Dayton in Buffalo, New York. The attendance: 19,260.

To be fair the Ohio State-Dayton game received a boost from the locals who wanted to watch Syracuse throttle Western Michigan, but there's no reason why the Ohio Hardwood Classic couldn't at least come close to reaching that.

If The Schottenstein Center sold all 18,809 of its seats at an affordable average ticket price of $40 per day (upper deck seats might be as little as $10), each team could walk away with a nice chunk of change. Split four ways, each team could bring in close to $400,000 just from ticket sales.

Add in concession sales and merchandise and these teams are making a tidy profit, better than the Buckeyes would do by paying Bryant to come in and lose by 38 points. Hold the Ohio Hardwood Classic in the second week of December when ESPN and FOX don't have much else to show and these schools could walk home with a major payday.


Ohio has been producing some impressive college basketball talent. In the past five years, the state has produced players Jared Sullinger, Trey Burke, Adreian Payne, Aaron Craft, Aaron White and Caris LeVert. The problem for Dayton, Cincinnati and Xavier: all of these players went to Ohio State or non-Ohio Big Ten schools.

From 2010 to 2014, 60% of the top-five prospects in Ohio left the state to play basketball. Take Aaron Thomas, a 4-star wing who went to Florida State instead of Cincinnati, or 3-star point guard Willie Moore who picked Oregon. How about 4-star power forward Devin Williams (West Virginia, 2013) or 3-star wing Jalen Hudson (Virginia Tech, 2014)?

All these players passed up opportunities at arguably superior local programs to play for perennial bubble teams. Even Ohio State has had some trouble, missing out on Luke Kennard and fighting with the blue bloods to woo Carlton Bragg. If Ohio schools could just keep the talent in-state their programs would be even better.

A nationally televised showcase like the Ohio Hardwood Classic would benefit all of these programs, particularly the smaller schools. Ohio State might not like sharing the limelight, but playing a top-25 game in Cincinnati or Cleveland certainly wouldn't hurt the Buckeyes' efforts there. Considering the collective success at Xavier and Dayton, those schools could start snagging some of the players mentioned above and things would really take off.

It's a Slam Dunk

Let's recap: The Ohio Hardwood Classic would improve each team's schedule. It would give fans some real entertainment. It would make money hand over fist. It would boost recruiting and reignite rivalries. It would give each team another nationally televised game. Most importantly, it would feature really good basketball.

The Ohio Hardwood Classic wouldn't require much sacrifice; all Ohio State, Dayton, Xavier and Cincinnati would have to do is sacrifice two cupcakes a year. If they do, it could boost basketball in Ohio for years.


Comments Show All Comments

thatyoungdude's picture

I would love to see it expanded to 8 teams so that one or two top MAC teams could also be included.

+4 HS
DaveStephens's picture

Who would the other two teams be?  There's been no mention of Cleveland State, the team that held down Cleveland basketball when LBJ was gone.

The Dude abides.

apack614's picture

When do the ticket sales start? I'm all about it!

I can't wait to poop in the PL bathroom.

+1 HS
Tater_Schroeder's picture
Let's do it!

I am all for this. There may be the thought that Ohio State would have nothing to gain by playing "little brother", but I'd take tough games against good in-state teams than blowouts against schools I struggle to even identify. 

Who is going to throw this idea on Gene Smith's desk?


+3 HS
tennbuckeye19's picture

It's not a bad idea and it's been kicked around before, but I doubt it will ever happen.

From what I hear, Thad and/or Gene Smith aren't interested. Supposedly they don't feel like it would benefit Ohio State. And Thad won't play in Cincy. In order for something like this to take place or even just head to head match-ups with Ohio teams, OSU wants them to be played in front of a Buckeye-friendly crowd, which would mean Columbus or Cleveland.

TheShookster's picture

This is a great idea. When I think of basketball in Ohio I obviously think of the 4 schools mostly mentioned in this article, so i'm okay with this staying as a 4 team thing, perhaps a round robin. Who  wouldn't be way more excited to watch the Buckeyes play Dayton than North Florida (sorry Ospreys, no disrespect)?

He ain't even stretch doe!!

+3 HS
Buckeye in Illini country's picture

I have a feeling the Crosstown Shootout might be the thing that would stop this, especially if only 4 teams.  If you include Akron, Ohio, Toledo, and either BG or Miami or Kent St for an 8 team tourney with UC and XU on opposite sides of the bracket to limit rematches.

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

+1 HS
KansasBuckeye's picture

Just like with the College Football Playoff, I can't read four teams and not immediately envision expansion.  Hailing from Dayton, I obviously agree with the four teams mentioned.  But then I want to see any combination of Ohio U, Toledo, Kent State, Cleveland State, Youngstown State, Akron, Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green, and Wright State included in the fray.  As you mentioned, the Bobcats made the Sweet 16 a couple years ago, Kent St isn't long removed from being a top-flight mid-major, and I'd love to see the Raiders make some noise in this type of tournament. And if, as TENNBUCKEYE19 stated above, Matta and Gene Smith are the obstacle, then I say the other, smaller Ohio teams should kick this thing off on their collective own.  It would still be extremely entertaining and give the Ohio teams a chance to stake their claim to the state, so to speak.

Another thought is that the tournament could work on a revolving regional basis.  The Cincinnati-Dayton corridor could host one year, Columbus the next, Cleveland/Akron/Youngstown the following.  You could even throw in a Bowling Green/Toledo/Findlay region to keep the Northwest part of the state from getting upset.  (Sorry Athens, I don't see this in the cards for you.)

There are certainly a lot of ways this could become a major event in the first couple weeks of December.  Let's get this going Ohio athletic directors!

+2 HS
45OH4IO's picture

What about a 4 team tournament as discussed in the article with a rotating group of 6-8 teams year by year? So your team would be in it every other year, or 2 out of 3 years or something like that? (Not good at math.)

I hate to say it, but this idea could be started without the Buckeyes and when it makes enough money and creates enough buzz, OSU would look crazy/stupid for NOT participating. I mean, how could you claim you want to compete for national championships, when you aren't even trying to compete for your own state championship?

45OH4IO's picture

Or maybe you do the returning champ from last year and 3 other teams that rotate. 

John Brandon's picture

My thought was taking the top four RPI teams from the previous year, but that probably results in the four teams we have more often than not. If there was some way to do a rotation that made sense I'd be all for it.

Firedup's picture

If this was started this year, I would absolutely put Toledo in ahead of Xavier.  Toledo could be the best team in Ohio this year.  Last year they lost in the MAC finals and were denied an at large birth due to a weak schedule.  This would be a great way to raise the strength of schedule for all teams involved.  

"Making the Great State of Ohio Proud!" UFM

John Brandon's picture

Good points, Toledo has a strong program and would include the northern part of the state more

ECSAGESTER's picture

If this was started this year, I would absolutely not put Toledo in ahead of Xavier. There is no way that Toledo last year, or this upcoming year, was or will be better than Xavier. Xavier and Ohio State, for the past ten years, are the premier teams in Ohio and I don't think that's changing anytime soon. 

Ashtabula's picture

As a basketball fan, this would be awesome. As an Ohio State fan, I don't see the benefits.

+4 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

National exposure. Prime time game with top 25 and NCAA tourney teams. 


Little to no travel. 

Respectable opponents to challenge team early in season. 

The fans. 

Showcase Ohio

Read my entire screen name....

+4 HS
Ashtabula's picture

If it was important for the players to be in classes then I agree with the less travel. Other than that, they can get the same things you listed from playing Kansas. Plus, they are not helping their little brothers.

+1 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Not the money. We make next to nothing to travel to Kansas. 

Kansas is one game, this would be 2. 

I don't see the problem with "helping out little brothers" because we will also benefit from it greatly. 

No way this is a lose-lose situation. 

Read my entire screen name....

+1 HS
Ashtabula's picture

No problem helping out little brother until he gets big enough to kick your ass...them it is every man for themselves.

+1 HS
John Brandon's picture

Ohio State doesn't stand to benefit as much as the other schools, but they would make a nice payday and if the alternative is games against Wofford and Long Beach State it's definitely more beneficial for Ohio State

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Yes. The games against Wofford and long beach state truly are lose-lose situations. 

Read my entire screen name....

+1 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

It's ridiculous that a case is made against this. 

Read my entire screen name....

-1 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Great idea John and excellent supporting arguments!

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

+1 HS
shortbus20's picture

Never happen

  • shortbus20
-1 HS
BHT's picture

I like it. MAKE IT HAPPEN!

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Indeed looks good you are on to something!!!

Shangheyed's picture

Maybe call it the King James Classic, and host it in Akron.... give even more face to the Ohio programs...  Not sure if that is even possible that kind of affiliation with an individual or the NBA... Hope someone in charge reads your article, nice job indeed.

+1 HS
John Brandon's picture

I like it, LeBron definitely raises interest in Ohio basketball and any sort of affiliation with him is good for all interested parties

Shangheyed's picture

Indeed his association would help with TV exposure outside of OHIO and the surrounding States...

Carson's picture

While the four-team tournament might occasionally exclude some the state's best teams from competing – the Ohio Bobcats made the Sweet 16 in 2012 – it’s the best way to ensure quality matchups and peak publicity for the event. 

While the MAC is not a power basketball conference, the Ohio Bobcats do have more wins over the past 3 years than Cincinnati, Dayton, and Xavier.

But you're right. In 2013, Ohio only had an average attendance of 6,900, while all others were over 9,000.

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Would indeed put OHIO on the map for hoops... genius idea really.

Joebobb's picture

Why not - What is the key in NCAA scheduling. Wins and Quality Losses. You can lose in basketball as long as you lose to the right teams. A loss to Cincinnati, Xavier and Dayton are good losses because all those teams have a high RPI. It is the difference between a 11-12 loss team getting in to the NCAA tourney and a 6 loss team getting in. Also, it will create exciting basketball for recruits and fans alike, and much better than watching OSU against Gardner Webb or Wofford.

Ugly Hour Chazz Bear's picture

Ohio State, Cincy, Xavier, Dayton, OU, Toledo, Akron, Cleveland State

I like the bux.

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

And There you have it!   That would be a great Tourney and seats would be in demand...50% of those games would be played anyway... maybe the MAC wouldn't like playing each other before the season... but outside of that... looks like fun!

nbshelton729's picture

This would be cool, but a few corrections, when mentioning past post-season matchups, you didn't mention the Cincinnati/OSU Sweet 16 game in 2012.

Also for the Venues in Cincinnati, I believe you only looked at campus arenas.  US Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati hold just under 18,000 I believe.  

nbshelton729's picture

I would like to see a Tri-State tournament.  You should have to rotate a few schools based on conference affiliation since no more than 1 conference team can play in each tournament.  Could probably get 8 teams a year.  Or like some tournaments, just have them play as a normal regular season game as kind of a prelude to the bigger 4 team tournament hosted somewhere, probably Cincinnati as a central spot.

Ohio Options: OSU, Cincinnati, Xavier, Dayton, OU, Cleveland State, Kent, Toledo

Kentucky: Louisville, UK, Murray State, then smaller schools like WKU, EKU, NKU, Bellarmine

Indiana: Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue