Teams: Syracuse Orange (3-2, 0-0) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 0-0) Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Date & Time: Wednesday, Nov 28 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Location: Value City Arena, Columbus OH
Line: Ohio State -5. ESPN BPI gives the Buckeyes a 68.4 percent chance of winning.
Radio: Cuse.com, TK 99/105, WAER 88.3, SiriusXM: 971
Morehead State Blog: Land Grant, Holy Land
Rivalry: Ohio State leads, 5-2
Current Streak: Ohio State, 2
First Meeting: Syracuse was in the middle of a four-game road trip when it traveled to take on the Buckeyes in February of 1911. Fresh off a loss at Ohio Wesleyan (39-11) the day before, SU was beaten in Columbus, 48-17. Sol Bloom, Syracuse’s sophomore star, tallied 11 of his team’s 17 points in the defeat. Interestingly, SU would go on to close out the road trip with losses at Oberlin (34-10) and at Colgate (38-14). That 1910-11 team would finish the year with six wins and 11 losses.
Last Meeting: The two met up in the Elite Eight of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, when Ohio State ousted the Orange, 77-70. Buckeyes star Jared Sullinger scored a game-high 19 points after shaking off first half foul trouble. Meanwhile, Syracuse, the top seed in the East region and playing the tourney without the suspended Fab Melo, was led by point guard Brandon Triche, who scored 15 points. Backcourt mate Scoop Jardine added 14 points and dished out six assists in the loss.
The Orange cut an eight-point deficit down to just three in the final minute, and looked as though it might have a shot at tying it up. But Ohio State made crucial free throws to ice the game and advance on to the Final Four down in New Orleans.
Head Coaches: SU: Jim Boeheim (43rd year, 1,030-373); Ohio State: Chris Holtmann (2nd year, 31–9; 145–94 overall)
Coach Bio: Chris Holtmann was a star in the NAIA world while playing at Taylor University back in the early 1990s. From there, Holtmann stayed involved with his alama mater by working as a graduate assistant in 1997, a few years after his graduation. Following a brief stint at Geneva College, Holtmann headed back to Taylor again, this time as an assistant coach.
In 2010, Holtman took over as head coach of Gardner Webb in the Big South Conference, after serving as an assistant for a number of years. He experienced two losing seasons in his first two years in charge, but in year three, the Runnin’ Bulldogs broke off the leash. Holtmann’s club finished second in the Big Sky and earned a trip to the College Basketball Invitational.
Then came an odd move for any coach trying to climb the coaching ladder. Holtmann bolted his Garden Webb program to join Brandon Miller’s staff at Butler in 2013. There didn’t appear to be any underlying issues, as the split was publicly amicable from both sides perspectives. Which actually makes Holtmann’s decision all the more curious.
Regardless, Holtmann’s potential gamble paid off for him as he ended up replacing Miller, who had to step down due to medical issues. In three years leading the Bulldogs of Butler, Holtmann won 70 games. Butler made the tourney in each of three seasons, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2017.
That success caught the eye of Ohio State administrators, who called on Holtmann to replace coach Thad Matta that summer. Matta reportedly stepped down because of health concerns that were creating issues for him to keep coaching. In his first year in Columbus, the Buckeyes finished 15-3 in the Big Ten and made it to the second round of the NCAA tourney.
Last Year: Not only did Ohio State go 15-3 in the Big Ten last season, good enough for a second place finish, it also went 25-9 overall. That all coming after a disappointing 17-15 2016-17, which prompted the dismissing of Matta. Given that backdrop, Holtmann’s team blew away expectations in year one.
Last Game: The Buckeyes jumped all over Cleveland State, easily winning, 89-62. Three players scored in double figures for Ohio State, including sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson who tallied 19. CJ Jackson scored 17, Andre Wesson (Kaleb’s brother) added 11 and Luther Muhammad contributed 10 as the Buckeyes easily improved to 6-0.
What’s really interesting is how, after beating the Vikings, Ohio State vaulted to No. 1 in the newly released “Net Rankings” put out by the NCAA this week. It’s essentially the method being used to replace RPI, and it’s a complete mess. Without getting into the minutiae, the Buckeyes are on top of the rankings right now, despite having one noteworthy win (at Cincinnati) and a number of beat-downs on the likes of Purdue Fort Wayne and South Carolina State.
“Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: Kaleb Wesson is a six-foot-nine forward who is averaging 14.7 points and 5.8 boards per game. He has been one of the main reasons why Ohio State started the season unranked and now finds itself No. 16 (and No. 1 in the “Net Rankings”). In the last three games, the sophomore has scored 18, 19 and 19 respectively, and put in 15 points in the big season-opening win at Cincinnati. (Side note: Wesson also drilled three of four attempted three-pointers against South Carolina State last week.)
Outside of Wesson, Syracuse should also worry about Jackson, a senior guard averaging just over 12-points per game. And just for good measure, Duane Washington Jr. (not to be confused for Dwayne Washington, AKA Pearl), is a freshman who is shooting about 48 percent from three so far this early season. I know Pearl wasn’t a shooter, and that he was all things Syracuse, but doesn’t it seem like some kind of karmic comedy to have Duane Washington Jr. light up the Orange?
If Syracuse Wins: It all but erases the bad taste left in everyone’s mouths following the disastrous trip to New York City. On top of that, it gives Syracuse its first quality win of the year and a potentially major feather in its cap come NCAA Tournament time. The Orange probably wouldn’t hop back into the top-25, but SU would be close and it would move up in that cluster of the “Net Rankings.”
Plus, a win and a good showing from Frank Howard sheds more light as to why Syracuse looked so broken in the losses to Connecticut and Oregon. If SU walks out of Columbus victorious, then the entire hoops nation can point to Howard’s previous absence as to what was really ailing the team.
If Syracuse Loses: Ain’t no shame in coming up short on the road against the No. 16 (or No. 1) team in the country. Sure, it will be jarring to see Syracuse at 3-3 in the first six games. But two of the three losses were to ranked opponents and it’s likely that Howard is still playing himself into game shape.
Even if the Orange eventually gets blown out by the Buckeyes, the panic button should still be tucked away in a drawer waiting to be hammered repeatedly after a loss to Buffalo.
Fun Fact No. 1: Matta, the coach who stepped down due to “health related” issues that allowed for Holtmann to take over, will be honored at halftime of the game tonight. It’s a fitting tribute, given that Matta was able to help Ohio State win nine Big Ten titles in total (five regular season, four conference tourney). But some in the fan base had grown restless by the end of his tenure and wanted a change. So far, it looks like the right move was probably made. And I bet he will receive a king’s welcome from the faithful. But I’m still waiting to see Matta’s name surface during some school’s search for a new head coach. He may very well be done with coaching, but the way Matta stepped down, the timing of it all, just didn’t totally add up.
Fun Fact No. 2: Ohio State is 20-8 all time when its ranked No. 16 in the country as it is this week. Last year, the Buckeyes went 10-5 when it was in the top-25 poll.