Buckeyes Prepared For Four Games In Four Days

Ohio State has been to the past five Big Ten tournament championship games, but in order to return there this year, it's going to take some extra work. The Buckeyes head to Indianapolis as the No. 5 seed in this season's league tournament, meaning that a slate of four games in four days will be required to capture another conference crown.

During a Wednesday press conference to preview the upcoming Big Ten tournament, Aaron Craft pointed out that teammate Sam Thompson is no stranger to playing multiple games in a small timeframe.

"Sam likes to bring up the fact that when he played my AAU team once, he was in the losers' bracket," Craft said with a smile. "Because he lost."

"I didn't lose. We got to the tournament late and had to forfeit the first game," interrupted Thompson.

"And once you get into the losers' bracket, you have to play three, four, five games just to get to finals," Craft continued.

"Which I did," Thompson stated proudly.

"And then lost," Craft reminded his younger teammate.

Regardless of what happened between All-Ohio Red and Mac Irvin Fire in the past, both Craft and Thompson will be taken back to their AAU days this week when the annual conference tournament commences. Without a first round bye for the first time since 2005, it will now take the fifth-seeded Buckeyes (23-8, 10-8) four wins in four days to capture their second consecutive Big Ten tournament title.

In other words, Ohio State needs to work its way out of their own losers' bracket.

"I still remember playing five games in eight hours in AAU," Thompson said. "We're tough enough to do it. If we're fortunate enough to play four games in four days, we'll bring our best basketball."

Ohio State will need just that this weekend when it heads to Indianapolis as a tournament underdog for the first time since 2009. The first round and elongated path to the championship is unchartered territory for this group of Buckeyes, none of whom have ever entered a Big Ten tournament any lower than its No. 3 seed.

An early exit would also be a foreign experience for Thad Matta's squad. Ohio State has appeared in each of the past five conference tournament championship games, a streak that has caught the attention of the college basketball community -- even if Matta can't explain it.

"I've had a lot of coaches call me and ask," Matta said. "In terms of preparation, in terms of pregame speeches, in terms of what we eat -- it's kind of always the same. I don't know. I wish I had a secret."

The Buckeyes' potential journey to a sixth consecutive conference championship game begins on Thursday when they will face No. 12-seed Purdue (15-16, 5-13) at approximately 2:25 PM. OSU swept the season series with the Boilermakers, earning a 78-69 victory in West Lafayette on Dec. 31 and a 67-49 win in Columbus on Feb. 8.

Despite Purdue's struggles, Thompson still seems a formidable foe in the Boilermakers. Purdue is led by the backcourt duo of Terone Johnson and Ronnie Johnson and also features one of the Big Ten's best big men in A.J. Hammons.

"Any time we play Purdue, it's going to be a battle. They're one of the toughest playing teams in the Big Ten," Thompson said. "It's not going to be a walk in the park. Despite their record, we know we're in for a 40-minute basketball game."

The winner of the battle between the Buckeyes and Boilermakers will move on to face No. 4-seed Nebraska on Friday in what would be just the midpoint of an OSU run to Sunday's title game. It may not be an ideal path, but Matta doesn't view Ohio State's draw as any easier or tougher than any other team's.

"This year, the Big Ten tournament could be one of the classics of all-time," Matta said. "I saw that Warren Buffett's giving up a billion dollars (for a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket). I'd like like to see somebody pick the route of this one as well."

Which is why despite being viewed as an underdog, the Buckeyes aren't ready to count themselves out. In a season that's already featured a few, the conference tournament is just the next -- and perhaps final -- turning point for an Ohio State squad still attempting to live up to expectations that have yet to be met.

"We're looking for the same thing we're looking for every year. We're looking to win the Big Ten tournament championship. Our goals haven't changed because of our seed or because of our losses in the regular season," Thompson said.

"We've all packed to stay through Sunday. We all expect to play four games in four days."

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