Ohio State basketball has an important season on its hands.
After an unexpected campaign last year, which saw first-year head coach Chris Holtmann winning 25 games, including an NCAA tournament contest.
Ohio State had an improbable year when they were expected to do nothing.
Of course, the team is hoping to do the exact same this year. Predicted to finish towards the bottom of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes are hoping to defy expectations and return to the Big Dance.
It may be harder this time around, however. Last season, Ohio State at least had several established veterans in Kam Williams and Jae'Sean Tate, while Keita Bates-Diop emerged to become first-team All Big Ten.
This year, the Buckeyes are young, and it will be much harder for the team to win games unless a scorer emerges out of nowhere much like it did last year.
Nonetheless, the team should be fun to watch, as they have a lot of exciting young talent, and here are six games you absolutely must watch.
Wednesday, Nov. 7: @ Cincinnati
Mick Cronin has restored Cincinnati back into an established program, as the Bearcats have appeared in the last eight NCAA Tournaments.
Much like Ohio State, the Bearcats lost a lot of their production from
a year ago as seniors Gary Clark (12.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Kyle Washington (11.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) graduated, while junior Jacob Evans (13.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg) left for the NBA.
Nevertheless, Cincinnati was predicted to finish in second place in the AAC.
The Bearcats are led by a trio of upperclass guards. Junior Jarron Cumberland is the top returning scorer, as he averaged 11.5 points a year ago. The former Wilmington product was once a top-60 recruit, and showed a lot of promise a year ago. He must perform at a high level if Cincinnati is to have success this season.
Seniors Cain Broome and Justin Jennifer are also expected to lead the way for Cincinnati this year.
Another thing this matchup has going for it is that the Bearcats will be re-opening Fifth Third Arena in front of a sellout crowd on national television. This one should be raucous.
Game time: 6pm, ESPN2.
Wednesday, Nov. 28: Syracuse
Jim Boeheim and his zone defense will come to Columbus on Nov. 28 as part of the annual Big Ten-ACC challenge.
Coach Chris Holtmann announced that this would be the now-annual "Free Student Game," where all students, should they choose to attend, will receive a free ticket to the game. Of course, this is an effort to fill the Schottenstein Center for one of the marquee games on the Buckeyes schedule this season.
Syracuse barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament last season as an 11-seed, where they promptly won a play in game and two other contests to advance to the Sweet 16.
The Orange return almost everyone from last year (not exaggerating—they had one scholarship senior last season, and had one player transfer), including guard Tyus Battle, who led the team with 19.2 ppg a year ago.
This game is unlikely to go in the Buckeyes favor, simply because of the experience and depth that the Orange provide, but it should nonetheless be a good barometer for Ohio State as this game will occur towards the end of the non-conference slate.
Game time: 7pm, ESPN/2.
Saturday, Dec. 22: UCLA (in Chicago)
Ohio State will once again participate in the CBS Sports Classic, an annual event with four premier programs. After losing to North Carolina last year, the Buckeyes will hope to avenge themselves against the Bruins, led by Steve Alford.
Last season, the Bruins barely snuck in to the NCAA Tournament, where they were promptly defeated in the first-round play in game by St. Bonaventure. It has been widely speculated that Alford needs a good season in order to keep his job.
The Bruins did lose three impact players: their leading scorer, guard Aaron Holiday (20.3 ppg), to the NBA, and seniors Thomas Welsh (12.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and Gyorgy Goloman (7.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) to graduation.
However, UCLA returns three extremely highly touted players: sophomores Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as junior Prince Ali.
The Bruins also pulled in an epic recruiting class, led by five-star 7-foot center Moses Brown.
There are no excuses for UCLA this season. This will be another tough game for Ohio State.
Game time: 3pm, CBS.
Saturday, Jan. 5: Michigan State
While Ohio State will play two conference games in early December as part of the Big Ten's new scheduling pattern, this will mark the "true" opening of conference play as the Buckeyes will take on the Spartans at home.
Of course, last year's matchup between these two teams was historic, with the then-unranked Buckeyes clobbering the then-#1 Spartans in Columbus on that very same weekend.
This year, the game will look much different, as both teams have endured significant roster turnover.
The Spartans of course finished first in the Big Ten last year, but were upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Syracuse.
Their roster looks a lot different this year. The Spartans lost stars Miles Bridges (17.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Jaren Jackson (10.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg) to the NBA Draft, and senior Gavin Schilling and TumTum Nairn to graduation.
Two playmakers return to the Spartans, however: juniors Cassius Winston (12.6 ppg, 6.9 apg) and Gahanna product Nick Ward (12.4 ppg, 7.1 ppg).
Nick Ward eyes 'different level' in return to MSU https://t.co/1e0OakQBzH— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) June 30, 2018
The Spartans will also get back Kyle Ahrens, brother of OSU basketballer Justin, who missed the entire 2017-18 season due to injury.
This will be the first test in a grueling Big Ten schedule for Ohio State, and one that they will at least get at home.
Game time: 12pm, FOX.
Tuesday, Jan. 29: @ Michigan
The Buckeyes and Wolverines will play only once this season, and it's on Jan. 29 when the two squads will clash in Ann Arbor.
Last season, the team's split two games, but Michigan had the more successful season, as the Wolverines advanced all the way to the NCAA Basketball Championship, where they were defeated by Villanova.
The Wolverines did lose some impact players. Seniors Mo Wagner (14.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg), and Duncan Robinson (9.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg) all graduated.
However, several impact players return for Michigan. Senior-to-be Charles Matthews (13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is ready to take on a star role, while Lima, Ohio product Zavier Simpson will join him. Many pundits predict sophomore Jordan Poole to enjoy a breakout season, while 7-1 center Jon Teske will try to make a large impact.
Michigan will be a deep team this year, and one that should give Ohio State quite a game when the Buckeyes trek to Ann Arbor in January.
Game time: 9pm, ESPN/2.
Tuesday, Feb. 26: Iowa
If Ohio State is somehow in the race for the Big Ten title, this will be a pivotal game towards the end of the season.
Iowa is looking like they could make some noise this season. The Hawkeyes return literally everyone (no scholarship seniors!) from last year's young team, including junior Tyler Cook (15.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg), sophomore big man Luka Garza (12.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), and junior guard Jordan Bohannon (13.5 ppg, 5.4 apg).
The Hawkeyes will also return guard Connor McCaffrey (Fran's son) who missed last season due to various injuries and ailments. Iowa also added Cincinnati (Covington Catholic) guard C.J. Fredrick, who averaged 27.8 ppg in high school.
Look out folks, Iowa's got a squad this year.
Game time: 7pm, BTN.