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.