Bucks Kick Off Season Tonight

The Ohio State basketball team has been labeled by just about everyone as one of the best teams in the nation even after losing three valuable seniors a year ago. Proving it is worthy of those expectations starts tonight against Wright State.

One would think any apprehension Thad Matta had about his team before Ohio State's exhibition game with Walsh would be gone after his No. 3 Buckeyes won by a margin of nearly 50 points.

It isn't.

"We weren't as good as we needed to be," said Matta, commenting on his team's lack of aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. "We've really challenged our guys in a lot of area and I hope they're looking (at the tape) saying, ‘Wow, we didn't do what we were supposed to do all the time.'

"That's the big challenge," he continued, "(Getting younger players) to understand the standard you're trying to compete at. Those are things we've got to get corrected."

Because Ohio State's trek toward what the team hopes will be another deep run in the NCAA Tournament starts tonight in its season opener against Wright State, the Buckeyes don't have any time to iron out weaknesses without fear of paying the ultimate consequence.

The expectations for the Buckeyes are back even though three key seniors that helped Ohio State to a 34-3 record a year ago – Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale – aren't.

"We know the expectations are there," said sophomore Deshaun Thomas, who is jumping into one of the vacant starting positions after playing limited minutes his freshman season. "We didn't get where we wanted to be last year. We came up short. Now we have to start from the beginning with a new team and try to accomplish those goals."

Matta admitted he isn't sure what his rotation will look like against Raiders after playing just about his entire roster against Walsh. Uncharacteristically to the way he's typically handled his bench in the past, Matta played 11 players in the exhibition game for more than 10 minutes.

Whether Matta will return to his typical short bench in the regular season remains to be seen. The head coach, however, is concerned only with winning the game.

"Our mindset is to win the basketball game at all costs whoever we have to play to do that (we will)," he said. "I think there's great competition, even more so than there was at this time last week. I think our guys understand the roles they have on this team, and if they're going to choose not to do it, then we'll play somebody else that will.

"That's kind of one of the big messages we wanted these guys to understand. We've got the depth. You've got a job to do. Do it to the best of your ability."

Matta's team returns perhaps the most coveted player in all of college basketball in center Jared Sullinger, who is expected to have a more versatile game in his sophomore season after averaging a double-double last year.

Alongside Sullinger in the team's starting lineup is senior William Buford and sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, both of which helped the big man lead the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 a year ago.

Lenzelle Smith. Jr. got the start against Walsh at shooting guard but it remains unclear if he'll remain in that role against Wright State. Fellow sophomore Jordan Sibert has been pushing for more time in practice and it's possible both will jump into extended roles this year.

"We lost a lot of toughness," sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "It takes a lot of mental toughness to come in and do your job every day. Not just come in and practice hard on Tuesday, and then Wednesday and Thursday take the day off. Those guys came in every day and gave 150 percent every day."

Matta said the biggest challenge for his team now is getting them to treat every possession as if it were going to decide the game, something the Buckeyes even struggled with at times a year ago despite having a roster loaded with veterans.

Now boasting a roster with 10 freshmen and sophomores, Matta's team is going to have to grow up quickly. The expectations have been there for a while – proving they're is worthy starts tonight.

"We want to prove a point," Thomas said. "We think we are good enough to go far this season but it doesn't matter until we show it on the court."

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