Seated on a rolling chair in the Ohio State practice gym and surrounded by reporters, the head coach for the men's basketball team was being asked about a rumor concerning his team's Oct. 31 scrimmage with Baylor. Because such scrimmages between Division I foes are not allowed to be publicized in any way leading up to the event and no media coverage is allowed, only rumors had spread out in the wake of Saturday's contest.
One particularly popular one was that freshman center Jared Sullinger put up 40-plus points in the scrimmage, which lasted about 65 minutes. Once the rumor was posted on Twitter, Sullinger himself re-tweeted it. Asked specifically about the freshman's rumored prolific afternoon, Matta quickly denied it.
Then slowly but surely, a grin started to stretch out from the right side of his mouth to his left until his front teeth were clearly visible.
In other words, although official statistics and records were not kept, it appears the Buckeyes handled themselves well against the No. 16 team in the nation.
"It was encouraging to see some of the things we did well," senior guard Jon Diebler said. "Really everyone across the board did things well, whether it be rebounding or making the correct rotations. Now we also had some things that we clearly need to work on where we're making the same mistakes but it's encouraging to know that we can do it."
Diebler said he was pleased to see the Buckeyes score as many points as they did against the Bears but added that neither team had done any extensive scouting of its opponent. When the regular season rolls around, he said, OSU will not be able to get away with some of the little mistakes it made against Baylor.
The performance came despite only getting about 15 minutes from junior guard William Buford, who took a knee to his thigh. However, the team's leading returning scorer said he is fully recovered from the injury.
Matta said two aspects of his team's play stood out against the Bears.
"I think the biggest thing was watching guys attempt to do what we had worked on for two weeks leading into it," he said. "I thought that we rebounded the ball a little better than I had anticipated going in and I thought we did a good job of sharing the basketball."
Now the Buckeyes will get a chance to show those skills to the public for the first time this season. Sunday, they will take the court for an exhibition contest against NAIA Division-II foe Walsh that tips at 2 p.m. Although the competition level figures to be a notch below what Baylor offered, Matta said he is not necessarily ready to see his players take the court with actual people in the stands.
"I think they're getting there," he said. "You know how it is – If we had to play tonight I'd be as nervous as could be. I don't think we're ready to play yet."
The game will provide the first chance for answers to a number of questions surrounding this year's team. First up: the identity of the starting lineup. Four players who started at least 34 of the team's 37 games return and have mixed with a highly touted freshman class consisting of six players.
Asked about the starting lineup, Matta said it was not safe to assume that the starters will consist of the four returners plus Sullinger.
"We may go a different way after (Wednesday's) practice," the coach said. "They'll have another crack at it (Friday) with officials in here to iron that out. I like the fact that things don't always go the way they think they're going to go."
The sticking point could be the point guard position, which was manned by national player of the year Evan Turner last season. Although Matta said he feels outsiders are more worried about the position than he is, he said there is no set depth chart at the position and there might not be one until Big Ten season rolls around.
While senior forward David Lighty confirmed that he is still helping out at the position, Diebler indicated that his role there has decreased. When it comes to OSU running what Diebler termed designated sets, two players have primarily handled the ball.
"Aaron and Will have been playing point and even Dave has been playing point some," Diebler said. "It's all up in the air. We don't know, but I think as practice gets going and the season gets going he'll put the right guy in there."
In addition, the position could be bolstered by the arrival of freshman Lenzelle Smith. After undergoing offseason wrist surgery, Smith was expected to be cleared for 60-70 percent of practice as soon as today and could potentially be full-go by next week.
"Adding Lenzelle back, I think officially hopefully next Monday or Tuesday, where is he?" Matta said. "What is he capable of doing at the point guard position?"
The regular season officially starts one week from today with a contest against North Carolina A&T. Although Lighty will first be suiting up against Walsh for the fourth time in five years, he said the early-season contest against Baylor marked something new for him.
"That was different," he said. "That's probably been the only thing new for me. We've never done that before since I've been here. That's something that was real beneficial to us. They're a big, long and athletic team so going up against that size is something that will help us in the season."