Buckeyes Focused Solely On PSU

If the numbers tell the story, the No. 4 Ohio State basketball team looks to be in store for an easy win against Penn State on Wednesday night. Head coach Thad Matta, however, couldn't disagree more. For the full preview of the Buckeyes next game, check out the story inside.

Using only the Big Ten standings as the reference point to gauge Wednesday evening's matchup between Ohio State and Penn State in Value City Arena, one could come to a fairly reasonable conclusion that the No. 4 Buckeyes are the favorites to win.

Add in the fact that Ohio State (17-3, 5-2 Big Ten) leads the nation in average margin of victory, winning by an average of 22 points per game, the same train of thought could lend to thinking Penn State could be on its way to a blowout on the road.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has seen enough Big Ten basketball this season – and throughout his career – to never fall into the trap of using that train of thought as a rational way of thinking.

"I don't think there's a coach in the Big Ten that feels good about the next game that they're playing," Matta said. "That's just documented by who has beaten who. Records or rankings or where the game is being played really doesn't have much relevance."

That sounds like coachspeak, especially when dealing with cold, hard statistics. Penn State (10-11, 2-6), is tied for last in the Big Ten with Nebraska and has lost all four of its road games in conference play.

One of those Nittany Lions losses was a 70-58 decision at Nebraska, the very team Ohio State just beat by 34 points in Lincoln Saturday night. That game was only one of the Buckeyes 11 victories this season that has come by 29 points or more.

Still, Matta isn't budging. His players have adopted the same mentality.

"Sometimes it's easy for teams to come in and think just because they won their last game that they're just going to show up and win," starting shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "It doesn't work like that. You have to take each opponent for what it's worth and give them your best shot just like you played the last team."

If statistics are more valuable than quotes, Matta will point to a whole other philosophy based solely on numbers – how things have gone this season in Big Ten play.

The Big Ten is the only conference in college basketball where each team has at least two wins and two losses. Each team in the conference, excluding Purdue, has beaten a ranked opponent.

Penn State's victory over a team in the top-25 didn't happen too long ago, knocking off then-No. 22 Illinois in State College, 54-52. That hits particularly close to home for the Buckeyes, who suffered one of its two conference losses at Illinois.

The lesson Matta is trying to explain is simple – relaxing is losing.

"I like the way we're playing the last few games," admitted Matta, who saw his Buckeyes dismantle Indiana 80-63 on Jan. 15 before handing Nebraska perhaps its worst home loss in the history of the program. "But I don't think that you're ever completely satisfied."

Heading into the contest against Penn State, Ohio State still remains a half game behind Michigan for the top spot in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes host the No. 20 Wolverines on Sunday in a pivotal matchup.

That begins a four-game stretch for the Buckeyes that features three opponents in the top-25. Matta knows how pivotal that stretch will be for the Buckeyes in their efforts to win the Big Ten. For now, it doesn't matter if they can't beat Penn State.

"Honestly, we never bring it up," Matta said of the future schedule. "It is strictly Penn State. I want them focused on one thing and one thing only, and that's Penn State. I think if you find yourself looking too far ahead it will come back and get you in the end. There's no doubt in my mind, me personally, it is about Penn State and that is it."

Something else that doesn't matter is how much the Nittany Lions have struggled in away games, particularly against ranked opponents. The Nittany Lions have lost their last nine games against Top 25 teams on the road, most recently at then-No. 11 Indiana on Sunday.

To take those statistics into consideration when preparing for the Lions is unacceptable, Matta said. Again, it sounds like coachspeak, but Matta isn't the only one saying it.

"It seems like when you look at the schedule down the road, it's hard (to find) any games where you can just relax a little bit even," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday. "I think with the number of teams that are either 2-5 or 5-2 or 4-3, it seems like everybody's close enough that they still have something to play for."

Matta has done a good job of conveying that message to his teammate. Reserve Sam Thompson, who is still trying to work his way into the rotation, echoed his coach's sentiments.

"No matter what we do in one game, the next game can be completely different," Thompson said. "We have to have good days in practice leading up to that game and we have to have the same mindset coming into that game as we did the previous game. And that is to play harder and execute better than the other team."

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