Ohio State has won six-straight games — a stretch that includes a win over ninth-ranked Kentucky — and started the Big Ten season with a 2-0 record, but Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta didn’t mince his words Monday when speaking on the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference about what lies ahead for his team.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us,” Matta said.
He wasn’t lying.
The Buckeyes travel to Northwestern on Wednesday for their first road game in Big Ten play. After that, on Sunday, Ohio State travels to Indiana to play the Hoosiers at historic Assembly Hall.
|Jan. 6||at Northwestern||13-2 (1-1)|
|Jan. 10||at Indiana||12-3 (2-0)|
|Jan. 16||at Maryland||13-1 (2-0)|
|Jan. 21||at Purdue||13-2 (1-1)|
Following that, the Buckeyes return home for a contest against Rutgers. But after the lowly Scarlet Knights visit the Schottenstein Center, it’s back on the road again for two more, this time against No. 3 Maryland and 20th-ranked Purdue.
This stretch — with four of the next five games on the road — means things are about to get real for Ohio State.
“Our mindset is kind of similar,” junior forward Marc Loving said after Sunday’s 75-73 win over Illinois. “Not only believing in our system, but keep believing in each other. That’s really one of the big keys because on the road, everyone is against you.”
After their brutal start to the season, the Buckeyes have rebounded winning six straight and eight of their last nine. But only one of those contests was a true road game — Dec. 12 at Connecticut — and that was a game Matta is trying his best to forget as Ohio State was waxed in a 20-point loss to the Huskies.
“I’ve tried not to think too hard about those times,” Matta said of the beginning of the season. “I talked about it after the [Illinois] game and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to see where we are because the last road game that we played at UConn we were awful.’”
Playing four of five on the road in the Big Ten is difficult enough, but the teams the Buckeyes drew during this stretch certainly don’t make things any easier.
Northwestern currently sits at 13-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten after falling to Maryland in its last game, 72-59. The Wildcats, though, may have their best team in the last couple of seasons despite the fact they are battling some key injuries. Northwestern is the lowest-rated KenPom team of the four Ohio State will face on the road over the next two weeks coming in at No. 51. That spot, however, is still better than Ohio State at No. 53.
Indiana is 12-3 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten and hosts Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The Hoosiers, one of the top offensive teams in the country who sometimes lack on the defensive end, rank 25th in KenPom’s advanced statistical ratings.
The next two on the road will be even more difficult for the Buckeyes, though, as they travel to College Park, Maryland on Jan. 16 for a date with the third-ranked Terrapins. Maryland is 13-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten and ranks 15th in KenPom.
Then, to close out this brutal stretch, the Buckeyes travel to face 20th-ranked Purdue. The Boilermakers are the highest-rated KenPom team on Ohio State’s upcoming schedule, coming in at No. 7. Purdue is 13-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes’ play of late sparked life into what was thought of as a lost season early on. But Ohio State will be tested like it hasn’t been all season in the coming weeks.
It's time to find out what this team is truly about.
“It’s just the guys on the court and the guys on the bench and that’s about it,” Loving said of playing away from home. “You’re not going to have too many fans in there.”