Ohio State football and basketball share the same colors but not the same shade of scheduling scrutiny.

Ohio State football and basketball share the same colors but not the same shade of scheduling scrutiny.

Where in football the Buckeyes' strength of schedule is equated with the SOS acronym by which it is known - Save Our Season, anyone? - the men's basketball schedule suffers only a mild critique, and even then the criticism is limited to the program's typical early-season ordering up of overmatched opponents that provide limited viewing bang for the buck.

Ohio State football fans have come to regard the Buckeyes' SOS as the embarrassing relative whose negative reputation makes the family squirm. From such an association there is no escape. All fans can do is complain a little, shrug the shoulders and settle upon the ubiquitous "it is what it is."

Nationally, the Buckeyes' weak SOS, particularly as it relates to a feeble Big Ten, has become a drag on the program's prowess, leading to constant taunting of Ohio State as overrated.

Ohio State football fans, meanwhile, voice two complaints: first, that a weak schedule does not prepare the Buckeyes for when they finally face a legitimate opponent. Michigan State on Dec. 7 was the first top-10 team the Buckeyes faced since the 2010 season - and the first team to beat Ohio State in the past two seasons.

Second, the annoyance of shelling out $79 per ticket to watch the Buckeyes maul the likes of Florida A&M during what is just a 12-game regular season.

The men's basketball team could be accused of taking the same cakewalk path to success - the schedule strength ranks 229th in Jeff Sagarin's ratings entering tonight's game against Delaware - but outcry is kept to a minimum, in part because basketball does not receive the microscope treatment given to football, but mostly because the Buckeyes have shown under coach Thad Matta that playing pushovers today has no adverse effect down the line.

Matta tends to schedule "down" during the first two months of the season - although he is correct to point out that even the so-called weaklings on this season's schedule likely will compete for their conference championships - but the Buckeyes still have managed to win five regular-season Big Ten championships and four conference tournament titles, plus reach two Final Fours to go with four consecutive appearances in the Sweet 16.

Clearly, Matta knows what he is doing, because scheduling University of Balsa Wood and Paper Bag State College before Christmas has not hurt Ohio State's finish, nor its reputation. It also guarantees the Buckeyes can check "20-win season" off the list from which the NCAA tournament selection committee makes its picks, should they ever require an at-large bid.

Of course, Matta also has something going for him that football coach Urban Meyer does not. Namely, that Big Ten basketball is a real bear, while Big Ten football is a mere cub.

The men's basketball team gets all it can handle by slugging it out in a conference that is as strong and respected nationally as it is ridiculed in football. By the time the Buckeyes complete Big Ten play, their SOS likely will rank in the top 10. Last season, for example, Ohio State finished with the 10th-highest SOS despite having played such nonthreats as Savannah State, Chicago State and Missouri-Kansas City.

"The (scheduling) formula, I don't know if it is right or wrong," Matta said yesterday.

He is being too modest. Right or wrong is not the issue, but whether his scheduling method is effective. Obviously it is, and not simply because the Big Ten provides a competitive challenge; Matta is a master at getting his teams to improve one step at a time.

"Everything we do is geared toward late March and early April," junior sixth man Sam Thompson said. "When we're beating a team by 20 or 30 points (in December), we're not worried about that particular game but about playing our best 40 minutes so we can improve for our next opponent, and for our opponents in January, February, March and hopefully early April."

Delaware, North Florida and the like might not be much to watch, but Ohio State's results - and reputation - do not suffer because of them.

Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.