OSU Ready For Clash With Duke

The No. 2 Ohio State basketball team will have the opportunity to prove its worthy of national notoriety - or risk being humbled on college basketball's biggest stage - when it hosts No.3 Duke on Tuesday night. Get the preview of the pivotal non-conference bout inside.

Mike Krzyzewski's extensive resume at Duke has made his name synonymous with success. He's become so good at finding it that he was able to recognize the potential at Ohio State even before Thad Matta agreed to coach the Buckeyes.

Running into Krzyzewski is one of Matta's first memories since taking over Ohio State's basketball program in the summer of 2004, even if the Buckeyes coach can't remember exactly where he was.

"After I got this job, I was out (on the recruiting trail) and Coach K stopped me and said, ‘Hey, I really believe you've got one of the top jobs in the country,'" Matta said Monday. "He said, ‘I've looked at Ohio State the past 25 years and I think you can win there.'"

Of course Matta shared those sentiments – he took the job. But picturing the program as a basketball powerhouse the way Krzyzewski said he envisioned it would've been a stretch, particularly given the state of the program Jim O'Brien left behind.

Seven years later Krzyzewski brings his No. 3 Duke squad to Columbus to meet Matta again. Matta's Buckeyes (6-0), however, are ranked one spot ahead of the traditionally dominant Blue Devils in the polls. Krzyzewski was right, especially because Ohio State's current ranking has been the norm under Matta in the recent years.

A year removed from achieving the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and four from a trip to the national title game, Ohio State is out to prove yet again that it belongs in the same sentence as Duke.

A win over the Blue Devils (7-0) in Value City Arena Tuesday night would do the trick.

"As I told our guys, there have probably been over 1,000 college basketball games and they're playing in the two biggest ones to this point on paper," Matta said. "You come out of this game and you're going to know a lot about your team. And you're still in November."

Perhaps Duke is more battle tested this season, as the Blue Devils have already knocked off No. 15 Michigan and No. 14 Kansas before winning the Maui Invitational last week. The Buckeyes have only one game against a top foe – an 81-74 win at home over then-No. 7 Florida on Nov. 15.

Ohio State, however, is widely regarded as one of the best teams in college basketball. It is a perennial favorite to repeat as Big Ten champions and is expected to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

But Duke will provide an early-season barometer for a team that said goodbye to three seniors that helped comprise one of the best basketball teams in the nation a year ago.

"I think it is a gauge to get you ready for what's coming and what's probably most important down the road," Matta said. "To me, that's simply getting your basketball team better. The fact that we have had two top 10 teams coming in here is really exciting for our fans."

For the defensive-minded Matta, he'll have his hands full against the Blue Devils. Duke can score from all areas of the floor, which he pointed out in his press conference, and it is evident in the numbers. Five players - Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Austin Rivers, Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins – are averaging double figures for the Blue Devils.

The Buckeyes have relied on two players to spark them offensively in sophomore big man Jared Sullinger, who averages 18.8 and 10.7 rebounds, and senior guard William Buford, who averages 17.7 points per game.

Containing the Blue Devils will be a challenge.

"We focus on us and not the opponent and that's what makes this basketball team good," said Sullinger, who admitted he is excited to play the Blue Devils but doesn't prepare differently for major non-conference matchups.

"Duke is a good defensive team, a great basketball team overall. Coach K. is a great coach and he always has his teams ready for games like this, so whatever happens, happens. I just need to trust my teammates."

Sullinger and Buford both did what they could to downplay the significance of playing Duke, saying the Blue Devils are just another opponent on the schedule. However, there's no denying the significance of the looming matchup.

Not only will Ohio State have the opportunity to prove it is worthy of national notoriety – or risk being humbled on college basketball's biggest stage – the Buckeyes football program just a day earlier named Urban Meyer its new football coach.

As if that wasn't enough for the buzz around Value City Arena, Ohio State video coordinator Greg Paulus, who is in his first year on the Buckeyes staff, played under Krzyzewski for four years at Duke.

"A lot of the same staff, whether it is strength people, athletic training staff, the coaching staff, it is still in tact from when I was playing," Paulus said. "It's fun watching (Duke) on film because they play so hard, they share the ball. As a college basketball fan, they play the right way."

Matta hopes the same is being said in Durham. After all, Krzyzewski predicted it would turn out this way.

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