OSU Ready For Big Ten Tournament

The third-seeded Ohio State basketball team is ready to begin its Big Ten Tournament action Friday night. Thad Matta has never been a big proponent of conference tournaments, but this year the Buckeyes have a lot riding on it.

Thad Matta wasn't even finished with his postgame press conference after Ohio State's Big Ten title-clinching win at Michigan State last Sunday when he dropped in his often-shared opinion about conference tournaments.

"I've never been a big proponent of them," he said. This year, however, even Matta admitted he's anxious to see how his young team plays in tournament that sports a format that closely resembles that of the NCAA Tournament.

When the third-seeded Buckeyes play No. 6 Purdue in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal in Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday at 9 p.m., Matta will have closely looking for the same issues that plagued his team in a rough up-and-down final month of the season.

Ohio State finished its season on an ultimate high when beating Northwestern and Michigan State on the road – both games were won on the Buckeyes' final possession – to capture a share of its third-consecutive Big Ten crown.

However, players said they often had a hard time practicing to the level Matta expected. Before the Buckeyes' final loss of the regular season against Wisconsin on Feb. 26, the head coach threw his team out of practice.

Now that the Buckeyes are in a tournament where a loss means going home, Matta hopes to ensure those symptoms are long behind a team that hopes to eventually make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

"I've got both eyes peeled for it," said Matta, who has won three Big Ten Tournament titles in his eight years with Ohio State. "I think you hope the last month has taught this team a lot about togetherness and staying with what we have to do. But those games don't win you the next game unless you really pay attention to the small, minute details of why you won those games. That's what you hope you're building on as you move forward."

Ohio State has won the conference tournament each of the past two seasons as the No. 1 seed. The Buckeyes, however, were placed as the No. 3 seed this year after tying for the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Michigan. The Spartans and Wolverines, the top two seeds in the tournament, earned the advantage because of tiebreakers.

Matta wouldn't go as far as calling Big Ten Tournament games exhibition contests – "I'd probably get in trouble if I did," he said – this year's tournament has added implications given the regular season conference crown ended in a three-way tie.

After the Spartans fell to the Buckeyes, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo addressed the Breslin Center crowd and promised to the team is "going to go (to the Big Ten Tournament) and win our championship back."

In order for Ohio State repeat as tournament champions, Ohio State could eventually face matchups with Michigan in the semi-finals on March 10 and maybe even Michigan State the following day in the championship game.

To the three teams – all of which finished 1-1 against each other during the regular season – the true Big Ten champion will be the last one standing at the end of the tournament.

"These tournaments are a big deal," junior big man Evan Ravenel said. "It kind of sets you apart from the rest of the pack as far as within your conference. I take a lot of personal pride in these tournaments."

Philosophies range on the importance of winning the conference tournament. Of course, there's the view that suggests winning the whole thing is vital because it ensures the team will be riding on all cylinders come NCAA Tournament time.

However, the counterpoint could be more relevant to Ohio State than ever before. With minor injuries to point guard Aaron Craft and rumblings that Jared Sullinger isn't completely healthy, perhaps the Buckeyes could use the extra rest to gain health before the Big Dance starts the following weekend.

What adds even more water to that argument is that Ohio State seems to be out of the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, yet a virtual lock to at least earn a No. 2 seed. The difference between the two seeds, Matta said, isn't drastic.

But Matta always subscribes to winning ideology, especially in a one-and-done format. Becoming familiar with playing well in the single-elimination tournament is crucial, especially because the Buckeyes' season could abruptly end as soon as next weekend if they don't get it down.

"Each team is different," Matta said. "I will be anxious to see how this team plays in this setting."

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