It's complicated, but coaches want more Ohio State-Cincinnati basketball games

Adam Jardy
Ohio State fans try to distract Cincinnati forward Tre Scott as he shoots a free throw during the second half Wednesday in Value City Arena. [Joshua A. Bickel]

The two-year home-and-home men's basketball series between Ohio State and Cincinnati proved that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

In season-opening games, the second of which took place Wednesday night at Value City Arena, the Buckeyes swept the Bearcats by identical 64-56 scores to claim the in-state bragging rights. They were the first on-campus games between the state powers in just shy of a century and were brought to fruition when coach Chris Holtmann took over the Ohio State program during the summer of 2017.

Now the two teams head their separate ways for the rest of the 2019-20 season. Looking into the future, the question now is whether or not they will face each other again in such circumstances.

Both Cincinnati coach John Brannen and Holtmann expressed their support for the idea but stopped short of assuring that it will happen.

“I don’t know when this will continue, if it will continue, but I know that they’re a high-quality program and their consistency speaks for itself,” Holtmann said. “I think (playing Cincinnati) good for us and good for both programs.”

The series was scheduled without the input of Brannen, who was coaching at Northern Kentucky at the time. Wednesday’s game marked his Cincinnati debut, and aside from the final score it didn’t go as he had hoped. Neither team shot better than 31 percent from the field during a first half that saw the Bearcats take a 26-19 lead into the break, numbers that were reflective of an overall less-than-pleasing game that Holtmann described as a “rock fight.”

Still, Brannen said, sign him up for more – just maybe not right off the bat.

“I think it’s a great rivalry,” he said. “I’d love to play it. I’m not sure we’re going do to it the first game of the year. I think Chris would probably second that. It’s a tough challenge to do it the first game of the year.”

Scheduling such a game is more complicated than it seems. From Ohio State’s standpoint, the Buckeyes are locked into their annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge game, they often participate in the Gavitt Games against a Big East team and they will be taking part in preseason tournaments in the coming years. Up first is the Battle 4 Atlantis, which will feature the Buckeyes next season.

Those marquee games, plus the Big Ten’s expansion to 20 Big Ten games, give Holtmann less scheduling flexibility. It also means that an annual Crossroads Classic-type of event, like the one that features Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue, remains little more than a dim possibility at present.

Holtmann pointed out that Cincinnati isn’t the only other high-major team in the state.

“People are also going to ask about Xavier and Dayton,” Holtmann said. “Those are the questions that are going to come up. If you’re playing UC, why aren’t you playing Xavier and Dayton? Scheduling is complicated. I think it’ll be something we revisit. I’m sure Gene (Smith and I) will have little conversations at some point.”

After the team’s Wednesday shoot-around at the arena, Holtmann said he had an usher sit him down and explain to him that he was a student at Ohio State when Cincinnati beat the Buckeyes in consecutive national championship games in 1961 and 1962.

“It means a lot to people that know our program,” Holtmann said. “I think this game means a lot. Would I have said I’m glad we scheduled it had we gone 1-1? I don’t know. But I think it matters. It’s a great opening game for our fans.”

Or, at least, it was.


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Basketball podcast: