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Commentary: Ohio State-Duke game sets stage for basketball to outshine Tressel’s troubled team

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor

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Move over, Jim Tressel.

There’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s got a full arsenal ready to go when his season rolls around.

Coach Thad Matta and the Buckeye basketball team fell short of expectations last season, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to shine next season.

After it was announced Tuesday that Ohio State would play perennial college basketball powerhouse Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, one thing about next year has become clear: There is more excitement in Columbus for Buckeye basketball than for Buckeye football.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils will travel to Columbus on Nov. 29, just three days after Tressel’s Buckeyes (for now) take on Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

OSU and Duke entered the NCAA Tournament as No. 1 seeds two months ago, and both were upset in the Sweet 16.

If the football team wins at Michigan next year, and the result isn’t an appearance in the inaugural Big Ten Championship, that familiar feeling of pride that comes along with beating the Wolverines will be all but forgotten by Tuesday night, as basketball jerseys and “Nuthouse” shirts replace the football garb that traditionally floods the OSU campus throughout the fall.

And it won’t stop after next season. This could very well be the beginning of OSU’s football program taking a backseat to Matta’s budding basketball program.

The timing is perfect. Look at the latest cover of ESPN The Magazine for example.

Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas became common names on campus last season, as the trio of freshmen often dominated more experienced opponents and kept OSU at No. 1 in the NCAA rankings for most of the season.

Sullinger started last year and Craft came in early every game, and Thomas could step into the starting lineup to replace former Buckeye David Lighty.

The football program is without its biggest offensive threats, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and receiver DeVier Posey, for the first five games of the season.

Pryor and Posey are two of five Buckeyes, also including offensive lineman Mike Adams, running back Dan Herron and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits.

Tressel also is suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for failing to report the players’ violations.

If more wrongdoing by the football program is discovered, it could be the end of the road for Tressel at OSU.

It just so happens that it could also be the beginning of Matta and the OSU basketball team becoming one of those perennial powerhouse basketball schools like Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.

What pushes fans to buy tickets to games and spend money on team apparel is a winning squad.

If OSU’s football program is looking at stiffer penalties than the ones already placed on it, recruits will begin shying away and the talent the Buckeyes have been able to bring in during past years won’t be there anymore.

That lack of talent will show in the win-loss column.

On the other hand, if young high school basketball stars get used to seeing Matta and company on national TV, in big-time games year after year, even more Sullinger-like recruits will start coming in — regardless of whether they grew up 20 minutes east of Columbus, like Sullinger.

The increased talent will show by the banners that go up at the Schottenstein Center.

Columbus might not be ready to admit it yet, but it’s already starting to show on the national level: OSU is becoming a basketball school.

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