Charleston, SC (Sports Network) - The fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will battle the Marquette Golden Eagles in the 2012-13 season opener this evening, doing so in the Carrier Classic on board the U.S.S. Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina.
Ohio State is coming off a stellar campaign in which it won a share of the Big Ten Conference title and reached the NCAA Tournament's Final Four. Despite the loss of former star Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes are loaded once again as they hope to challenge the likes of top-ranked Indiana and bitter rival Michigan for conference supremacy. OSU is under the direction of Thad Matta, and he has led the Buckeyes to the Big Ten's best overall (221-65) and conference (98-40) records during his eight years at the helm.
Matta owns a record of 12-0 in season openers as a head coach, going 1-0 at Butler, 3-0 at Xavier and 8-0 at Ohio State.
Marquette is a member of the Big East Conference, and is coming off a year in which it went 27-8 overall and 14-4 in league play to earn a second-place finish. The loss of several key contributors from that squad will undoubtedly hurt the team this season, but coach Buzz Williams is a master motivator and will certainly have the remaining talent playing at a level that will be above most teams in the conference.
Ohio State owns a narrow 5-4 lead in the all-time series with Marquette, which includes victories in three of the last four matchups. The teams have not met since Nov. 30, 1994, an 82-70 win for the Golden Eagles in Columbus.
While the loss of Sullinger hurts, Ohio State still has enough talent in place to make another run in the ultra-competitive Big Ten, and coach Matta is obviously pleased to have three starters back to lead by example. Aaron Craft (8.8 ppg, 4.6 apg, 2.5 spg) and Deshaun Thomas (15.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) both earned All-Big Ten honors a season ago, with the former being named the league's Defensive Player of the Year. While Thomas will hold court up front and Craft working his magic out on the perimeter, help will need to come from a slew of solid if unspectacular players. The hope is guys like Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Evan Ravenel (3.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg) will contribute more as their roles expand. There is only one freshman on the roster this year, as 6-5 Italian import Amedeo Della Valle has the outside shooting chops to keep opposing teams from keying too much on OSU's "big two". Long-range shooting is something the Buckeyes are going to have to work on as they hit just 33.4 percent of their 3-point attempts last season.
Marquette also has some significant losses to overcome, those being top scorers Darius Johnson-Odoms (18.3 ppg) and Jae Crowder (17.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg). Picking up the slack is expected to be forwards Jamil Wilson (7.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and Davante Gardner (9.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), along with guards Vander Blue (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Junior Cadougan (6.3 ppg, 5.4 apg). Additional help could come from senior center Chris Otule, but he will likely excel more at the defensive end, provided he shows no signs of the knee injury that has hampered him in the past. And Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett (13.0 ppg) will be asked to step into the starting lineup right away and produce. Marquette is probably a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big East this year, but Williams has a knack for getting the most out of his players so another solid overall season should be in the cards.