Chris Holtmann isn't afraid to schedule the in-state foes Ohio State has long avoided

Chris Holtmann is beefing up Ohio State’s non-league schedule by adding a series with Cincinnati. (AP)

New Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has already corrected a mistake that his predecessors made.

Under Holtmann, the Buckeyes will schedule the prominent in-state foes they’ve avoided in previous years.

Ohio State announced Tuesday that it will open the 2018-19 and 2019-20 men’s basketball seasons with games against Cincinnati. The first leg of the home-and-home series will christen the Bearcats’ newly renovated Fifth Third Arena and the return game will take place in Columbus in 2019.

“We have great respect for the UC program and Coach (Mick) Cronin,” Holtmann said in a statement. “The idea of challenging ourselves in the non-conference while also providing an attractive game for our collective fan bases certainly made sense to us. We understand the challenge of opening the season on the road versus a high-caliber opponent with a younger team provides some risk but we felt like it was the right decision at this time.”

The revival of the long-dormant Ohio State-Cincinnati rivalry signals a shift in scheduling philosophy from the Buckeyes. They have previously played marquee non-league games only against out-of-state foes out of fear of legitimizing their in-state rivals, a concern that now seems laughable given that Cincinnati, Xavier and Dayton have combined for 17 NCAA tournament appearances in the past seven years.

Since the Bearcats won back-to-back national title games at the expense of the Buckeyes in 1961 and 1962, the two programs have met just once in the regular season, a 72-50 Ohio State rout on a neutral floor in December 2006. The Buckeyes also traditionally haven’t played Dayton or Xavier, scheduling the Flyers only four times in the late 1980s as a result of a friendship between the coaches and facing the Musketeers only twice since 1935, both times in the postseason.

In 2011, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told Yahoo Sports that an annual game would benefit both schools but the Buckeyes had not been willing to schedule it.

“It would be a yearly event just like Louisville and Kentucky, but I don’t see it happening,” Cronin said. “I have friends that have coached at Ohio State and they were basically told, ‘You’re not playing Cincinnati.’ It’s been a longstanding historical decision from their school.”

Everything changed when Holtmann replaced Thad Matta as Ohio State’s coach in June. The former Butler coach understood the value of annually playing in-state foes, having participated in the Crossroads Classic each year along with Notre Dame, Indiana and Purdue.

Holtmann has broached the subject of a similar annual event in Ohio that would include the Buckeyes, Cincinnati, Dayton and Xavier. It isn’t certain whether that event will ever happen, but this series with Ohio State and Cincinnati is a big step forward.

“This is a great thing for Ohio, for basketball in Ohio and for the fans of these great universities,” Cronin said. “I want to thank everyone involved in making this happen. We are very excited about reopening our arena next season. Supporting this and agreeing to play Cincinnati in a home-and-home series is a first-class move by Ohio State, Coach Chris Holtmann and the OSU administration.”

At a time when historic rivalries are dying in college basketball as a result of conference realignment, the return of Ohio State-Cincinnati is healthy for the sport. It can help fill the void for Duke-Maryland, Missouri-Kansas, Indiana-Kentucky and the other great rivalries that have died off.

For years, Ohio State has been unwilling to schedule games like this. Holtmann proved Tuesday he’s not afraid, and college basketball should benefit from it.


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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!