It’s hard to believe, but we likely aren’t that far away from the beginning of college hoops, folks.
Although the full schedule has not yet been released, Jon Rothstein broke the news today that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge match-ups are officially official, with your Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s squad set to host the Ohio State Buckeyes on either December 8th or 9th.
Sources: Notre Dame will host Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) October 29, 2020
The last time these two programs met (Dec. 2013), the Irish choked away a win over then-no. 3 Ohio State, having led 58-50 with 2 minutes to play and 60-56 with just 40 seconds to go before allowing OSU to dramatically seize control of the game. The Buckeyes won 64-61, Jerian Grant was suspended soon after, and the rest of that season is very, very unfortunate history.
This year, the Irish are coming off another rough season, as the much-heralded 2018 recruiting class spent their sophomore year improving alongside upperclassman mainstays like John “John Mutton” Mooney, T.J. Gibbs, and Rex Pflueger — but not improving enough to be a tournament team.
ND was 20-12 (10-10 ACC) and set to take on the 23-7 (15-5) Virginia Cavaliers in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament when COVID forced the NCAA to shut down the season. Now, having lost Mutton, Gibbs, and Pflueger, that 2018 class steps into all the leading roles as juniors, hoping that their talent and the addition of Stanford transfer Cormac Ryan will be enough for the squad to make a leap and earn ND’s first tourney bid since the 2016-2017 season.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are hot off a 2019-2020 season where they certainly would have made the NCAA tournament, having finished the abruptly-ended season ranked 18th after going 21-10 overall and 11-9 in a pretty tough Big Ten, with wins over a number of ranked teams throughout the year (Villanova, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois).
OSU lost leading scorer Kaleb Wesson to the NBA Draft this off-season, but with the rest of their key players back again in 2020-2021, it should still be a very good early test for an Irish squad that looks to have a strong starting lineup but VERY limited depth, especially if Mike Brey’s pleas to get immediate eligibility for transfers fall on deaf ears.
Just got off the phone with Mike Brey, who has gone to the NABC what he's calling an "all hands on deck" proposal for CBB this fall — to allow everyone on a roster, even those who are sitting out for the year as a regular transfer, the ability to play this year for depth reasons.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) October 23, 2020
No matter if ND gets to see Trey Wertz a year early or not, this ACC/Big Ten Challenge game is usually a great barometer of how good ND will be. Think 2015 compared to last year — in 2015, the Elite Eight-bound Irish won in overtime over an MSU team that ended up making the Final Four, whereas last year, a top-10 Maryland team DESTROYED the Irish.
Here’s to hoping we get to see the rest of the schedule soon since we’re about to enter November, and also here’s to hoping the Irish are able to continue improving after the rough past few years they’ve endured, and maybe even get a really nice non-conference win before 2020 is done.