Matta Era Set To Begin Against Towson

Thad Matta's first OSU men's basketball team will open the regular season against Towson in the Guardians Classic tonight (8 p.m., no TV) at Value City Arena. Click here for a preview of the game and the Guardians Classic.

Thad Matta, the 13th head coach in the history of the Ohio State men's basketball team, will have his regular season debut as the OSU coach tonight as the Buckeyes host Towson in the opening round of the Guardians Classic (8 p.m., no TV).

The Guardians Classic is a 12-team tournament with first- and second-round games being held at three campus sites – Ohio State, Missouri and Creighton. The OSU-Towson game will be the second of a doubleheader with Morgan State-Robert Morris. The winners and losers will be matched up on Tuesday with OSU's game that night also set for an 8 p.m. start.

The three 2-0 teams from the second round will all advance to the final four of the Guardians Classic Nov. 23-24 in Kansas City. A fourth wild card team will be selected from among the six 1-1 teams based on team RPI, relative margin of victory or defeat in the first round, RPI of first round opponent, relative margin of victory or defeat in the second round, and RPI of second round opponent. No weight is given to any victory or defeat greater than 15 points.

Matta is glad his team will have a tournament setting to open the year.

"This puts us at an early stage into a competitive nature where we're trying to advance," Matta said. "This takes the end of the season and moves it forward. We'll play two games in two days and it will kind of emulate what we might see at the end of the year."

Matta was asked about his team's progress in the preseason.

"At times, we're like the old bus driver: The good news is we're making good time. The bad news is we're lost," Matta joked. "That's how we are at times. When you take over a program, you are going to have some days when you struggle and you'll have some good days. The big thing you look for as you come in is to have competitive practices.

"I think we have had some great leadership with Terence Dials. These kids are trying to do everything we've asked of them.

"We are excited. This should be a great test for us early in the season."

Matta believes it could take a while before this team establishes its identity.

"It will be a work in progress," he said. "The team we were involved with last year, it took us until February to figure that out. We need to get them to understand how we want to play. The quicker they get it the better. We are still searching for that identity."

Matta saw some encouraging things in his team's 77-67 exhibition win over Northern Kentucky. Dials had 22 points, while Ja'Kel Foster had 19 points. OSU was unable to put NKU, a Division II team, away.

"The thing that stood out was the lack of consistency," Matta said. "There were moments where we played solid defense. But we weren't able to get it done over 40 minutes. Offensively, I thought we executed pretty well at times and at other times we didn't get it done."

The Buckeyes figure to go with senior Brandon Fuss-Cheatham at point guard. Fuss-Cheatham missed time the last two weeks dealing with the death of his mother in a car accident. But he returned to the team late last week. He figures to be flanked in the backcourt by senior Tony Stockman, OSU's leading returning scorer at 13.6 points per game, and junior J.J. Sullinger. Dials and sophomore Ivan Harris figure to open inside.

Towson was 8-21 last year as a member of the America East Conference. The top two returnees are 6-6 junior Lawrence Hamm (10 points, 5.3 rebounds) and 6-10 senior Tony Dixon. Former DePaul and Florida State coach Pat Kennedy takes over as the new coach at Towson. This will be his 25th year as a head coach. He has 416 career wins and is tied for 19th with Rick Pitino of Louisville for the most wins for an active head coach in Division I.

Also Notable

* Ohio State is the third stop as a head coach for Matta. In his two previous debuts, Matta defeated Eastern Illinois (90-73) in his first game at Butler in 2000. In his first game as Xavier head coach in 2001, Matta's squad downed Coastal Carolina 72-41. He also guided the Musketeers to season-opening wins in 2003, an 87-48 win over St. Peters in the preseason NIT, and in 2003, a 62-37 victory over Coppin State.

* The 12 previous men's basketball coaches at Ohio State have a combined record of 9-3 in their first games as Buckeye head coaches.

* Ohio State opens its 106th season of men's basketball against Towson in the first round of the Guardians Classic in Columbus. The Buckeyes are 82-23 (.781) all time in season openers. In the first road game of the year, Ohio State is 49-55 (.476). The Buckeyes did not play a road game in 1900-01. Ohio State is 86-19 (.819) in home openers.

OSU dropped its season opener at San Francisco 76-65 last year. The Buckeyes are 4-1 in season openers at Value City Arena. The loss was to Notre Dame in the Preseason NIT in November 1999.

* In a span of 10 days Ohio State could play five games. The Buckeyes play again Nov. 16 in the second round of the Guardians and then again Nov. 19 vs. Delaware at Value City Arena.

If the Buckeyes advance in the Guardians event, they will be guaranteed two games in Kansas City Nov. 23 and 24. Ohio State then plays at home, this time at St. John Arena, Nov. 27 against Chattanooga.

* OSU and Towson met once before in the opening round of the 1991 NCAA Tournament in Dayton, with OSU prevailing 97-86.

* Other schools participating in the tournament include Alcorn State, Brown, Houston, Iona, Northern Arizona and Sam Houston State.

"We are excited to have twelve outstanding programs compete in this year's Guardians Classic. The Guardians Classic highlights the positive aspects of college basketball, the role coaches play in the lives of student-athletes, and the contributions that coaches make to their communities," said Jim Haney, Executive Director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

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