Today, OSU opens up Big Ten tournament play. If all goes well, the Buckeyes will play three games in three days, the last of which will conclude shortly before seeding for the NCAA Tournament is announced. Then the final stage of the season can finally get underway.
With a No. 1 seed all but assured, how important is it for OSU to add a conference tournament crown to its resume? According to fifth-year senior David Lighty, the Buckeyes are in it to win it and nothing less.
"I'm trying to win," he said. "Playing good and winning at the same time is great. I think if we keep playing like we've been the last five or six games it's going to be pretty hard to beat us."
The Buckeyes have enjoyed plenty of recent success in the Big Ten tournament. In the last five seasons, OSU has advanced to the title game four times and won two of those contests including last year's crown.
Head coach Thad Matta said the possibility of playing three games in as many days can be good preparation for the quick turnaround that comes with playing in the NCAA Tournament. However, he pointed out that the timing of this tournament can be awkward for a team in OSU's position.
Today's opponent, Northwestern, is playing for its postseason life. With no hope for an at-large selection, the Wildcats need to capture the tournament title and automatic bid that accompanies it for any hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
"To me, these types of things are really more for the players and the fans," Matta said. "You go in and the thing I like about it is when you lose you come home. You hope that that builds your mind-set. It's a lot of basketball in a short period of time if you continue to win."
Freshman forward Jared Sullinger said he expects the weekend to be similar to his experiences of playing AAU basketball growing up.
"You've got to come in with a mind-set of wanting to win," he said. "Obviously we all want to win. That's really the main focus right now. With winning comes championships, so hopefully we can get another one."
That focus was vividly demonstrated by Lighty during last year's run to the tournament crown. As the Buckeyes pulled away in the second half of the title game against Minnesota, the forward scored three consecutive baskets to help turn the tide in his team's favor.
The game came after OSU needed a half-court heave from Evan Turner to hold off Michigan in its first game of the tournament and following a double-overtime win against Illinois that pushed the Buckeyes into the title game.
Stretches like that show OSU's approach to the tournament: we're here, so we might as well win it.
"I wanted to win, I guess," Lighty said. "I'm just out there making plays and trying to hustle and help my team win, that's all. I don't think it was anything special that I tried to dig down deep in and bring something extraordinary out of it. I was just playing basketball and making plays."
As for his team's second step, Sullinger said the goal is simple.
"Honestly it's just another trophy to put in Coach Matta's office," he said. "We're out here to win. It's another step toward what we want to go toward. We've got to keep playing."