Men's basketball: Schedule mostly set for Ohio State, but need for resiliency grows
The usual worry and dread is starting to surface for Chris Holtmann.
It has been a long, unprecedented offseason for the Ohio State men’s basketball program. But after having gone through multiple iterations of a 2020-21 schedule, the Buckeyes know they will open on Nov. 25 with a home game against Illinois State as part of a 27-game schedule that was mostly announced Wednesday evening.
So while Holtmann is dialing in on preparing for the Redbirds, his is a good kind of stress given everything that has taken place since last season was shut down on the cusp of the postseason.
“It feels really good,” the fourth-year Ohio State coach told The Dispatch on Thursday afternoon. “Our guys need to play games. They want to play games. We need to provide that for our players, obviously in a safe environment, and we need to learn about this group that we have.”
It’s one shred of normalcy in a season that will be anything but. Ohio State’s schedule still has one addition to be made, Holtmann said, a game that will be during the weekend of Dec. 13 for which the Buckeyes are waiting on the signed contract to be returned.
That will bump them up to the maximum number of games allowed by the NCAA this season, but Holtmann has been vocal about his belief that scheduling 27 games does not mean the Buckeyes are likely to get to play them all. COVID-19 testing, contact tracing protocols and rising infection rates across the country combine to make it doubtful that the Buckeyes will play everyone as currently scheduled.
In addition to putting the schedule together, Holtmann said the coaching staff has also had to open channels for when – not if – games are canceled and teams have to pivot.
“I’ve already had that talk with Akron, Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati, Xavier, Kent, a number of schools,” Holtmann said. “I think our staff’s probably talked to Ohio, too. There’s a number of schools that we’ve already had that conversation that, hey, we may need to add a game. I think we’re all going to have to be ready to pivot in the middle of a week and schedule a game if it works.”
The Big Ten schedule has some built-in flexibility. It includes what the Big Ten described as two sets of collapsible open dates during the periods of Jan. 18-21 and Jan. 25-28, and the weeks of Feb. 22-25 and March 1-5.
There won’t be any fans for when Ohio State's season begins, either, in accordance with a new athletic department policy that goes into effect Friday and lasts for the next 28 days. The first time the Buckeyes will play another team since a loss at Michigan State in last year’s regular-season finale will be played inside an otherwise empty Value City Arena.
It’s admittedly a lot for a team that plays in the ninth-biggest arena in the nation. The key this year, Holtmann said, is for the Buckeyes to recognize the need for resiliency and thankfulness. Players have the option to opt-out and return next year with no loss of scholarship or eligibility.
“It does challenge you in ways to be resilient, to be a group that is not easily frustrated,” Holtmann said, “but at the same time we can’t ever forget that we don’t have to do this, right? This is what they worked for. They want to do it, and in a world that is a little bit upside-down in a lot of ways right now with everything going on, they get to lose themselves in a sport that they love. I think that is a great thing.”
Ohio State schedule
(Where not listed, times and TV are to be announced)
25 – Illinois State (2 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPNU)
29 – UMass-Lowell (4 p.m., BTN)
2 – Morehead State (5 p.m., BTN)
5 – Alabama A&M (TBD, BTN or BTN+)
8 – at Notre Dame (ACC-Big Ten Challenge)
16 – at Purdue
19 – vs. North Carolina (Cleveland, CBS Sports Classic)
23 – Rutgers
26 – at Northwestern
30 – Nebraska
3 – at Minnesota
6 – Penn State
9 – at Rutgers
13 – Northwestern
16 – at Illinois
23 – at Wisconsin
27 – Purdue
31 – Michigan State
4 – at Iowa
8 or 9 – at Maryland
13 – Indiana
18 – at Penn State
21 – Michigan
25 – at Michigan State
28 – Iowa
6 – Illinois