OSU basketball: Matchup with Xavier ranks among Big 12-Big East’s best

The 2021 matchups for the third annual “Big 12-Big East Battle” were announced last week, featuring some promising contests between two of the nation’s best college basketball conferences for the upcoming 2021-22 season. As part of the inter-conference challenge, OSU will play host to the Xavier Musketeers on Dec. 5 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

10 of the teams between the two conferences have played each other the past two seasons, with UConn excluded last year after rejoining the Big East. This winter, all 11 Big East squads will participate with the exception of DePaul. The Blue Demons, who feature a new head coach in Tony Stubblefield, finished last year with a 5-14 record overall and have exactly one winning season in the past 14 years.

The Big East and the Big 12 will resume their annual conference challenge for the 2021-2022 season, in which OSU will host Xavier on Dec. 5.

Last year, four games were canceled due to COVID-19 cases and quarantining guidelines and the two leagues each won three games against each other. OSU beat Marquette on the road last fall, 70-62. In 2019-2020, the Big East won eight of the 10 matchups against Big 12 teams.

This December will mark the first time that Xavier and OSU have met on the basketball court. The Musketeers have made 28 overall NCAA Tournament appearances and have reached the Sweet 16 six times since 2008.

The Xavier-OSU matchup is one of the best in terms of competitiveness and the two teams’ combined quality among this upcoming season’s Big 12-Big East Battle games. The Cowboys are fresh off their most successful season in 16 years, which includes finishing as Big 12 Tourney runners-up and defeating several Top 10-ranked teams, including the eventual national champion Baylor Bears. Other top matchups feature Villanova-Baylor, Kansas-St. John’s, and UConn-West Virginia.

Though Xavier won the Big East regular-season championship three years, the Musketeers have been barely above average in the past two years. Expect that to change under fourth-year head coach Travis Steele, whose Xavier squads have improved in winning percentage in each of his three seasons in Cincinnati.

The Musketeers also return two second team All-Big East performers from last season in sophomore forward Zach Freemantle and senior guard Paul Scruggs. The 6-foot-9 Freemantle scored 16.3 points per game and led the Big East with 9.0 rebounds per game. Scruggs, who is returning for his fifth season due to NCAA eligibility rules, led the conference with 5.7 assists per game in 2020-21.

Xavier, too, suffered four losses by six or fewer points en route to finishing 13-8 while missing an NCAA Tournament berth last season.