Buckeyes Prepared for Non-Conference to Big Ten Leap

By Mike Young on December 19, 2013 at 6:00p

The undefeated, Ohio State men's basketball team is battling the perception that their schedule isn't challenging enough. Sound familiar? 

Assuredly a sarcastic response to a Ted Valentine whistleHe's smiling, but maybe its a defense mechanism 

Unlike with the football team, the emerging narrative will likely be squashed as quickly as the Buckeyes enter Big Ten play. The conference is a powerhouse in this sport and hasn't been dragged down over the last six years by the quality of its members or the basketball media. In five of the last six seasons, the conference's RPI ranking has been among the top two. 

That will undoubtedly help Ohio State in the eyes of the selection committee come March, but the current task is making the best out of a weak non-conference slate. Head coach Thad Matta is concerned with how his teams approach games where there's a large talent gap between OSU and their opponent.

"Personally, it’s something I’ve always been consumed with; doing the best I could to make sure guys’ minds are where they need to be leading into the game," Matta said. "You hope, with a senior group, they know that one night or one half of not coming ready to play can be detrimental to you." 

The Buckeyes have nine upperclassmen on the roster, with two seniors and three juniors in the starting. Junior forward Sam Thompson comes off the bench and believes this year's team is capable of handling any difficulties, particularly when the level of competition rises.

"We have guys who have been in this program for a number of years, we’ve been to the Final Four, we’ve had some bad losses," Thompson said. "We’re conditioned to handle adversity well. Obviously it may change when we actually face some, but I think we have the opportunity to handle it well.”

They will take on Notre Dame in New York, Saturday, and return home to face Louisiana-Monroe, Dec. 27. Those are the final two non-conference games, as OSU travels to Purdue, Dec. 31. The Big Ten currently has three of the top-five ranked teams in the AP Poll. Including Iowa, the conference has four in the top 25. Those are the only ranked teams on Ohio State's schedule.

Can't see his legs, assuming he's 12 feet in the air Thompson salutes fans and the leadership on his team 

According to KenPom.com, their current strength of schedule is No. 252 in the nation. That will certainly improve over the next three months, but the Buckeyes hope the early schedule has prepared them for making the leap to Big Ten.

"We’ve had [11] games to build our mindset so that we can come out and approach every game the same way," Thompson said. "Nothing will change in the Big Ten, the competition may get a little better, teams might know each other a little more, but we still want to come out an execute for 40 minutes on both sides of the ball." 

That is the ideal way to handle weaker competition, but OSU has displayed some sluggishness at the outset of few of their games. For example, Delaware opened up a 9-3 lead at The Schott, Wednesday. With no student section and in an arena showcasing its usual lack of zip, it's not surprising when the Buckeyes aren't consistently energetic throughout. 

Perhaps finding a consistent rhythm is the greatest amount of adversity they've faced so far. Matta will argue on behalf of the Marquette game, Ohio State's only true road opponent in non-conference play.

It was an ugly first half in Milwaukee, as both teams shot below 27 percent from the field. Somehow, the Golden Eagles hit fewer shots in the second half and the Buckeyes pulled away with a 52-35 victory. Marquette is now 7-4, but that hasn't made Matta reconsider the challenges that the matchup posed.  

TEam (AP Rank) KenPom Non-Conf. SOS Rank
Arizona (1) 107
Syracuse (2) 195
Ohio State (3) 252
Wisconsin (4) 53
Michigan State (5) 194

"When we pulled up that morning at 9:30 and there was 8,000 people stretched around the building, I knew we were walking into a hornet’s nest," he said. "I thought our guys handled that very well, especially through the defensive end, and, kind of, took the crowd out of it."

His team can couple that experience with superior tests from the last two years, such as at Duke, Kansas, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan State, among others.

"You hope," Matta said, "with what this team’s been through in terms of the environments we’ve seen on the road, they’ll block out what they need to block out."


Comments Show All Comments

bucksfan92's picture

I think a lot is being made over something trivial.  OSU scheduled an away game @ Marquette which was another Elite 8 participant last year, and still might have a very successful year.  We had to assume we'd get a tough draw in the B1G-ACC challenge, but we didn't - which perplexed me and probably Matta as well.  And ND was supposed to be a top 25 team.  Add that in with playing in the toughest conference you can't schedule your remaining OOC games vs Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, etc.  you need some breathers in there.
Anyway this team looks focused for the most part. They lacked some last night vs Delaware, but I am certain they will take care of business Saturday, and are headed for 15-0 when they roll into East Lansing in January for a monster tilt with Sparty.

Buckeye5000's picture

Thanks for the article Mike. I thought the same thing about the parallel with the football team supposedly not playing anyone. But I agree with the poster above that it is a non-issue. I personally would like to see 3 tough non-conference games a year. We thought we did have 3 on the schedule (1) Marquette on the road, and like the poster above stated we expected to play someone much better than Maryland in the B1G/ACC challenge (2) and what was expected to a ranked ND team at a neutral site (3). It seem those teams not holding up their end of the bargain is what has made our schedule worse than what we thought we would be playing. That seems like a parallel with the way in football it has been the B1G conference members who have killed our schedule strength.  

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BuckToAsT's picture

I'm fine with the parallel comparison to the football team--so long as the result is the same (i.e., undefeated season with last game loss to a good MSU team.)

Flip03's picture

Only problem with that is it would occur on Craft's senior day, which is sure to be one of the most highly-anticipated in recent years.  Perhaps we could mix in that one loss another time!

BeijingBucks's picture

Frankly with such a large tournament invitee list no one will remember the OOC games  by the end of the year.  It's all about how you are playing NOW. Look at UNC now vs beginning of the year. 
even for tourney  seeding it matters at the end of the year how you are playing not whether you faced a preseason top 5 team in November. 
Those early tests are good for seasoning a green team but for a newly gelling team I feel some confidence boosters could be even more important. Confidence seems to be the difference between a shooting slump and a record shooting percentage. The D is the one constant. 

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ibuck's picture

To me, focus and playing hard the entire 40 minutes are largely what will determine how the Buckeyes fare this season. When they start to coast by not playing good D or not going after the ball, particularly on defensive rebounds, they allow their opponent to stay in the game. Then their confidence may wane, and adversely affect their offense.

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Enzo's picture

I would prefer they play as tough of a non-conference schedule as possible. Unlike football losing games early isn't going to prevent you from winning the NCAA Tournament. Playing tough teams, especially on the road, however changes everyone's perception about the team and the program. Maybe the Schott would sell out a bit more by playing big name teams instead of the cupcakes.