The second-ranked Buckeyes will hit the road for the first time in Big Ten play and for the third time this season. Ohio State dropped the first of those contests away from Value City Arena, losing 78-67 to then-No. 13 Kansas on Dec. 10, before rallying for a 74-66 win at South Carolina a week later.
In order to improve to 2-0 in conference play and 2-1 away from home, the Buckeyes (13-1, 1-0) will have to beat an Indiana team that is on the up-swing. Despite an 80-65 loss at Michigan State Wednesday night in its Big Ten opener, Indiana brings an impressive 12-1 record into the game. The Hoosiers boast the best scoring offense in the conference with 83.3 points per game.
Matta said added maturity has been a big reason for IU's rise.
"Everybody's a year older," Matta said. "They're mature. Throughout the course of the last couple of years, you've seen those guys have big nights. Now they're doing it every night on a consistent basis."
That may be true, but leading the way for the Hoosiers this season has been freshman Cody Zeller. The 6-11, 220-pound big man from Washington, Ind., averages 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Zeller has sparked Indiana, and that fact has not surprised fellow Indiana native Deshaun Thomas. The future Big Ten opponents faced off in AAU play, and Thomas has seen Zeller's improvement since then.
"He had a lot to learn, but now I see him in college and he's gotten way better," Thomas said. "He's a big man who can run the floor, get put-backs and do the little things. Later on in the future he's going to be a great player."
The Hoosiers boast more than Zeller, of course. Four other Hoosiers – Christian Watford (13.2), Victor Oladipo (12.0), Jordan Hulls (11.5) and Will Sheehey (10.7) – average more than 10 points per game. Ohio State will have to put up another defensive performance like the Buckeyes did Wednesday against Northwestern. In OSU's 87-54 victory against the Wildcats, the Buckeyes limited the top two scorers in the Big Ten, John Shurna and Drew Crawford, to 24 combined points on 9 of 30 shooting.
"They have people who can do everything," OSU senior guard William Buford said. "They have drivers, they have shooters and they have a down-low presence. We have to make it tougher on them, making them take tough shots. We have to get on the glass and pressure the ball to disrupt the offense."
Indiana's biggest victory of the season came Dec. 10 against then-No. 1 Kentucky. The Hoosiers posted a 73-72 victory thanks to a three-pointer by Watford at the final buzzer. Matta knows what it's like to see an up-and-coming team knock off a top team. His Buckeyes defeated top-ranked Illinois on a Mat Sylvester buzzer beater in 2005.
"It gives your guys a sense of belief," Matta said. "It gives them a sense of a ‘Hey, we're turning the corner' type of mentality. That was a great win for them. Obviously now we're coming in there as a No. 2 team and they're definitely probably using that to their advantage."
Ohio State (13-1, 1-0) at Indiana (12-1, 0-1)
Dec. 30, 2011 – 6 p.m. ET
Assembly Hall; Bloomington, Ind.
G – Jordan Hulls (11.5 ppg)
G – Verdell Jones III (8.6 ppg)
G – Victor Oladipo (12.0 ppg)
F – Cody Zeller (14.2 ppg)
F – Christian Watford (13.2 ppg)