Just How Good Are The Buckeyes?

That's the question that's on the mind of every basketball fan in Columbus. And despite an undefeated start to the first 11 games of the season, Ohio State is still yet to have played a team of consequence on its schedule. That will change in the weeks ahead, when Big Ten play will finally put the Buckeyes to the test.

Thad Matta is just as curious as you are.

The season is not even two months young yet, but the Ohio State head coach has heard the question dozens of times. He's even wondered it himself.

Just how good are the basketball Buckeyes?

At 11-0 and touting top three rankings in each of the two major polls, the answer should be obvious. But thanks to a schedule that is yet to feature an opponent ranked any higher than 32nd in the country in terms of RPI this season, questions still persist about OSU and whether or not its success has been the result of impressive play or unimpressive opponents.

The answer -- like most things -- likely lies somewhere in between. But that hasn't stopped Matta from trying to measure his team, despite knowing that its toughest tests are still around the corner.

"That's one of the hardest parts of coaching because there's so many ups and downs over the course of a season," Matta said. "A lot of times you need to hit both and see the response."

That hasn't stopped the 10th-year head coach from evaluating his squad, however, even if the good far outweighs the bad for the Buckeyes at this point in the season.

Through 11 games, Ohio State has not only possessed the nation's top-rated defense according to KenPom.com, but a balanced scoring attack that has seen four Buckeyes average double-digit figures in scoring. With a veteran-laden roster and at least one NBA prospect in junior forward LaQuinton Ross, OSU has the ingredients to be one of the country top teams -- at least while the calendar still says December.

"I like this team," Matta said. "I think we're getting better in the areas that we're asking these guys to get better in."

The fact, however, remains that OSU is yet to play a team of significant consequence this season. But with a matchup with 8-3 Notre Dame in New York City's Madison Square Garden set for Saturday and Big Ten play to follow shortly after, the Buckeyes won't have to wait long to measure themselves against some of the nation's fellow top teams.

That's not to say that the first two months of the season haven't served a purpose to OSU, who already has its eye on another significant run this spring.

"Those games are very important to us because everything that we do is geared towards late March and early April. When we're beating a team by 20 or 30 points, we're not worried about that particular game per se, we're worried about playing 40 minutes of our best basketball so that we can improve for our next opponent, for our opponent in January, February, March and hopefully early April," said junior forward Sam Thompson. "It's really all about building our mindset for the later part of the season and getting our minds ready to approach every game the same way."

Whether or not that time of year is when the Buckeyes will be playing their best basketball remains to be seen. A coaching veteran of 23 years, that's something that Matta has a hard time predicting, as it's often only apparent once it's came and went.

"I've asked myself that question about 100 times a day, 'When do I think we'd hit our stride?' And I don't know the answer," he said. "A lot of times it's one of those things that it happens and you really don't know it because we've had great teams here play well and get beat because I think the competition -- the rigors of the Big Ten coming up here in a couple weeks -- can do that to you."

But if there's one thing that Matta is aware of, it's that you don't know what you have in a team until it's truly been tested. And while he's hopeful that this year will be different, he also knows that there's a reason why the question of just how good the Buckeyes truly are remains an unanswered one.

"I hope I don't find out but I have a feeling I will," Matta said. "Obviously, we'll find out at that point. A lot of the times, adversity breeds selfishness. That's the thing that you always try to stay away from and knowing that when things don't go well, you gotta get tighter, you gotta get closer, you gotta work harder and more together. I like that that's kinda the makeup of this team right now.

"I'm sure unfortunately we're probably gonna see it some point and hopefully later than sooner."

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