Ohio State vs. Xavier NCAA Basketball Preview and Best Bet

Paul Scruggs #1 of the Xavier Musketeers reacts after scoring a three point basket against Butler. Sarah Stier/Getty Images/AFP

A pair of early-season unbeaten from the state of Ohio will collide when No. 19 Ohio State travels to Cincinnati to do battle with Xavier. This might not be Cincinnati-Xavier intense but this should be a real showdown.

Like many teams in the Top 25 this season, Ohio State looks a little overvalued. The Buckeyes slipped two slots in the polls this past week, with unimpressive wins (non-covers) over Akron and Niagara as double-digit favorites. Ohio State played with far more purpose on Monday, bowling over Bowling Green 89-58 as 16.5-point favorites. This will be the Buckeyes’ first road game of the new season.

Xavier is 2-0 and 1-1 ATS and they too had issues with Niagara, winning by only three as 17-point home chalk. The Musketeers were much sharper in their second contest and beat Kent State 73-59 as 8.5-point faves.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Xavier Musketeers

Thursday, November 18, 2021 – 06:30 PM EST at Cintas Center

Sportsbooks like DraftKings have made Ohio State a 2.5-point road favorite when reviewing their betting odds.

Ohio State Not Married to a Fixed Starting Lineup

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann is on the record in saying “The starting lineup will be fluid all throughout the year,”. Holtmann seems content that he has nine players that deserve playing time at this point and those that play the best or give the Buckeyes a matchup advantage will be part of the first five.

Holtmann also appears to be using this for motivation, not completely satisfied beyond leading scorer EJ Lidell and top rebounder Zed Key. The upside of this kind of coach-speak is having players fighting for playing time and when Holtmann goes to the bench the drop-off could be minimal.

As per usual, Ohio State is creating good shot opportunities and is draining 49.3 percent to this point. For this matchup, Holtmann will be looking for better play from his backcourt. To name names, that would be Meechie Johnson Jr., Malachi Branham and Jamari Wheeler. This is an area that needs development and if the Buckeyes want to avoid another one and done in the NCAA Tournament, this group needs to start playing well in a game just like this.

Xavier Seeks Resume Builder Before Big East Action

Around the Xavier men’s basketball program, last spring had an empty feel. The Musketeers failed to reach the Big Dance after a 7-0 start. Xavier’s first loss was a winnable contest in Creighton, falling 66-61 and what followed was postponements, cancelations and very inconsistent basketball. Losing to Marquette 70-69 in their first Big East Tournament conflict summed up last season.

But with all seven top scorers back, and coach Travis Steele sitting on a warm seat (not the hot one yet), expectations are high for the “X” in the Queen City. 

The roots of this team are based around All-Big East selections, Zack Freemantle and Paul Scruggs. With these two, three better than average transfers and the rest of the group, coach Steele’s squad was picked third in the preseason polls, behind Villanova and Connecticut.

However, Freemantle suffered a foot injury that required surgery in late October and is not expected to return until around Jan. 1 if all goes well. That means others will have to pick up the slack.

What is the Best Side to Be On?

Everything for college basketball picks points to an extremely close contest. Ohio State is the better shooting team connecting on almost 50% of their shots compared to Xavier at not quite 40%.

The Musketeers play better defense holding opponents to just over 37% shooting with the Buckeyes at 41.7%, and Xavier is the stronger rebounding club at a +11 rebound margin compared to +6 for Ohio State. Yet, with all this, we’ve had so few games played, making it hard to take all the numbers at face value.

The Buckeyes are 9-1 ATS in road games vs. a team with a winning home record, yet at the same time, the Musketeers are 8-3 ATS as an underdog. The Big Ten has lost more games than anticipated in the early going and with the strengths and weaknesses of each club, this has all the making of a two-point outcome either way, so here is a nervous pick on Xavier to find a way to cover and possibly win.

NCAAB Pick: Xavier +2.5 (-110) at DraftKings