Seldom if at all is New York busier or brighter than the weekend before Christmas, and the Ohio State men’s basketball team is at the epicenter of it today.
Many of the Buckeyes players had never been in the Big Apple. How good the memory they take home, though, is up to them.
“If we come out with a (win), I guess we’ll conclude we had the greatest time in New York, even though we probably won’t get to see it,” guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said.
The third-ranked Buckeyes arrived in New York last night and will leave tonight after playing Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden in the headline game of the Gotham Classic. They will be in town barely 24 hours, are staying at a hotel across from the arena, and the few sights they will see will be from their bus going to and from the airport.
They met and watched video of their opponent after arriving last night, will have a shoot-around this morning at a gym other than the Garden (the NBA’s Knicks play Memphis at noon), return to the hotel for their pregame meal, and then pack for home and head to the arena.
“It’s going to be a great time,” guard Aaron Craft said, “but we’re there to play a basketball game.”
Notre Dame (8-3) is unranked but “undoubtedly” is the best team the Buckeyes have played to date, coach Thad Matta said. Marquette was ranked to begin the season but, like Notre Dame, has fallen out of the Top 25.
The Buckeyes (11-0) won their only road game so far, against Marquette on Nov. 16. The Golden Eagles shot 18.9 percent from the field and had 20 turnovers.
The Fighting Irish, on the other hand, “do a great job of taking care of the ball,” Matta said. “They’ve got veterans, guys who have been through the rigors of the Big East.”
The Irish have turned the ball over on only 14.5 percent of their possessions, which ranks 18th-best nationally. The Buckeyes have forced turnovers on 23.6 percent of opponents’ possessions, which ranks 10th.
Notre Dame could feel more at home than Ohio State in the Garden, a comfort felt from playing here in the Big East tournament every year. But Notre Dame joined the Atlantic Coast Conference this season in all sports except football, and the game tonight is its only scheduled appearance in New York.
Coach Mike Brey said his players should be excited.
“This nucleus, their last memory is they were in a pretty good rhythm in the Garden,” he said. Notre Dame was the No. 6 seed in the Big East tournament in March and advanced to a semifinal before losing to national champion Louisville.
Ohio State is 4-2 in six games at the Garden since Matta became coach. This is its first appearance since 2009.
But much of the current roster has played in the Final Four and Elite Eight the past two seasons in venues much like the Garden.
“When you stop and think about all the places they’ve played in their lives, it’s another one,” Matta said. “Me, as a coach, I don’t know if I’m in New York City, Los Angeles or Columbus. I think our guys are pretty much like that — I hope.”