Following an up and down 2014-15 season and a 2nd round loss in the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes will look to get back to the Sweet 16 and beyond in 2015-2016. Of course, Thad Matta's squad will have to do this without freshman sensation D'Angelo Russell and 3 other starters from last season. While Ohio State is a young team, they don't lack talent, and should get better and better as the year goes on.
Here is a quick preview of some key stretches and games during the Buckeyes' 2015-16 Big Ten schedule. You can view Ohio State's full schedule here on ESPN.
OSU's Key Big Ten Games
- Ohio State @ Northwestern (January 6)
I know most Buckeyes fans haven't circled this game on the calendar yet, but you might want to grab your pen. The Wildcats may have the most talent they've ever had in the 2015-16 season and will give Ohio State everything they can handle in the Welsh-Ryan Arena. This is Ohio State's first Big Ten road game, and the Buckeyes will be desperate for a win. Ohio State's next three road games after Northwestern are Indiana, Maryland, and Purdue. If the Buckeyes don't pull one out against Northwestern, it could be a rough start on the road for Thad Matta's squad.
- Ohio State vs. Maryland (January 31)
Looking at Ohio State's home Big Ten schedule, the Buckeye's have a great chance to come in to this game with a 4-0 record in Columbus. The Buckeyes first four home games are against Minnesota, Illinois, Rutgers, and Penn State. Maryland will be a tough task, however, slated to be a top-5 team nationally heading in to the season. The Buckeyes will have already played the Terrapins in College Park on January 16.
Assuming Ohio State loses the first matchup, this second game at home would be a great chance for the Buckeyes to pull out a big resume building win against a potential 1-seed come March. With five 4-star recruits joining the program in 2015, the Buckeyes will have a young team that should grow as the season progresses. Look for Thad Matta to have his team ready for this marquee matchup in Columbus.
- Ohio State @ Michigan State (March 5)
In the last matchup of the season, Ohio State travels to East Lansing to face Tom Izzo's Spartans in what promises to be a great way to end the 2015-16 Big Ten schedule. This may turn out to be a huge game for the Buckeyes because it could have an impact on their seed for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. The Spartans are likely to be playing their best basketball as they always do late in the season, and Ohio State hasn't won in East Lansing since the 2011-2012 season. This could be a statement game heading in to post-season play for both teams.
The toughest and most important stretch for Ohio State will be from January 16th through February 4th. The Buckeyes 6 games over this 20-day stretch including 4 road games. The road games are at Maryland, Purdue, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes play Maryland and Penn State at home during this stretch.
This stretch will be considered successful if Ohio State can somehow come out of these games with a 3-3 record. They need to find a way to beat Illinois in Champaign as well as the Nittany Lions in Columbus. If they can then pull off one of the Maryland games or a road matchup against Purdue or Wisconsin, they will come out of this daunting stretch in decent shape. It will be a tall task, however, facing potentially 3 ranked teams (including Maryland twice) in 6 games.
Ohio State needs to come out hot in Big Ten play. This may be a challenge with such a young roster, but if they can win the games they should at the beginning of the season, the Buckeyes will have chances to pull of quality wins toward the end.
The Big Ten teams they play twice are Maryland, Northwestern, Illinois, Michigan State, and Rutgers. That's a tough set-up for the Buckeyes as none of these teams will be pushovers, and Terrapins and Spartans may be the two best teams in the Big Ten. It does give Thad Matta plenty of chances to bolster his team's resume after playing what always seems to be a lighter non-conference schedule (although they do play Kentucky this year).