|#3 Ohio State 13-0, 0-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule||December 31, 2013 1:00 PM ET - ESPN 2 —— Mackey Arena West Lafayette, IN||Purdue 10-3, 0-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule|
For only the fifth time in school history, Ohio State has won its first 13 games.
The next 18 will be a steep rise in competition, as the Big Ten features three teams ranked in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls. The transition from Louisiana-Monroe to conference play begins with Purdue, as the New Year's Eve matchup in West Lafayette, Ind., is only the second true road game for the Buckeyes and their first since Marquette, Nov. 16.
Head coach Thad Matta expects his team to be ready for the challenge.
"We have 18 battles coming up and the war is decided in March," Matta said, after the ULM game. "From the standpoint of the challenges of that lie ahead, it’s what the guys sign up for when they come to Ohio State.”
The Buckeyes enter Big Ten play as one of only seven undefeated teams in the country, which includes includes rival Wisconsin. The Pac-12 – with Arizona and Oregon – is the only other conference with two undefeated schools.
Senior wing Lenzelle Smith Jr. is eager to see how Ohio State stacks up in one of the nation's toughest conferences.
"There are going to be some great challenges and we are going to learn a lot about this team," Smith said, following the win over Louisiana-Monroe. "This is what we have been preparing for all season."
|4||A. Craft||SR||6-2/195||9.5||3.2||4.6||G||3||R. Johnson||SO||6-0/178||10.8||2.7||3.8|
|3||S. Scott||JR||6-1/185||7.6||4.2||4.0||G||35||R. Davis||SO||6-5/211||4.8||3.2||1.2|
|32||L. Smith Jr.||SR||6-4/210||13.4||5.2||1.5||G||0||T. Johnson||SR||6-4/198||14.0||3.6||2.1|
|10||L. Ross||JR||6-8/220||12.9||5.8||0.6||F||5||B. Smotherman||FR||6-5/222||6.4||3.6||0.7|
|23||A. Williams||JR||6-11/250||9.9||7.2||0.3||C||23||J. Simpson||FR||6-10/250||5.5||4.5||0.7|
The Purdue program has been in good hands ever since hall of fame coach Gene Keady left in 2005.
Matt Painter inherited a 21-loss squad and got them back into the tournament within two seasons. Last season proved to be one of his biggest challenges, though, as his team entered Big Ten play at 6-6 and finished the season with 18 losses. This year, the Boilermakers are in much better shape, although their marquee win is against a five-loss West Virginia squad.
Still, Purdue sits at 10-3, one of eight Big Ten teams with double-digit wins. Painter is seeing steady improvement from his team since back-to-back losses in late November.
"We were able to out-rebound West Virginia, so that was a good sign," Painter said, during a teleconference, Monday. "We still had some times where we could've put the game away by finishing better or making free-throws, but I thought our mindset was good. That will have to ramp-up even more to give us a chance against Ohio State."
The Boilermakers coach has inserted 10 different players as starters, a sharp contrast to Ohio State having the same starting lineup in all 13 of their games. The constant shuffling of the rotation is partially due to Painter's desire to find consistent production.
"There's no doubt we've made a stride in non-conference since last year," he said. "We still weren't as consistent as I felt we could've been. Hopefully we can learn from it, be a better team and have a better conference season than we did last year."
It took almost all of November for the Buckeyes to gain some traction on the offensive end of the floor, but now they're rolling.
- Ohio State is 55-42 overall in Big Ten openers
- In their first Big Ten road game, Buckeyes are a combined 35-62
- The last time OSU played on New Year's Eve was in 2011, a loss to Indiana. Their overall record on Dec. 31 is 17-7
With the exception of the first 39 minutes of the Notre Dame game, Ohio State has found a rhythm. In seven out of the last eight games, OSU has scored 70 or more points. That includes a five-game stretch in which they shot at least 50 percent from the field in each contest.
Most importantly, junior forward LaQuinton Ross put together a strong December and has risen to the team's second leading scorer. Ross is averaging 17.1 points this month after putting up only 8.0 points per game in November.
Now that he's regained his ability to hit shots, other facets of Ross' game are starting to come along. He had three blocks against Delware and followed that up with double-digit rebounding performances in his last two games.
"He’s more engaged," Matta said. "I think he’s playing at a higher level and a level we need to play at."