OSU won easy first- and second-round games against Towson and Robert Morris early last week before rolling Delaware 74-49 in a non-tournament game Friday night.
But the Buckeyes will be stepping up in class as they head to the semifinals and finals of the Guardians Classic. OSU will tackle Houston (2-1) in one semifinal, set for 6:30 p.m. Eastern time (no TV). Missouri (2-1) and Creighton (3-0) will meet in the 9 p.m. semifinal. The winners and losers will then meet Wednesday. (The 9 p.m. championship game will be shown on College Sports TV.)
"We're excited for a chance to show how good we really are," said OSU guard J.J. Sullinger. "Houston has got some pretty good guards and they like to run. They pressure you a lot and take care of the ball."
A year ago, OSU participated in the Maui Invitational, but suffered a deflating opening round loss to San Diego State to fall to 0-2 on the young season.
"We got off to kind of a rocky start out there last year," Sullinger said. "We know there are three other pretty good teams in this tournament. Most definitely we want to win it. Coach Matta has said he'd like to win this tournament. But we also want to get better as a team and work on the things we need to work on."
Matta has had little to be upset with as his first OSU team has posted three straight wins by 20 points or more. But he knows his team is far from a finished product just yet.
"We are still in November," Matta said. "This is a great test for this team to start out this early and have two situations where we have to go and play on back to back nights. We're going on the road, too.
"This may sound corny, but I don't think you can ever be comfortable. We will constantly try to get this team to be better. We know we're nowhere where we need to be. For instance, against Robert Morris we executed five of 12 sets in the first half. That's terrible. We need to do a better job of getting our execution down."
Matta was asked if he has talked about simply beating Houston or if he has discussed winning the tournament.
"Honestly, it's one game at a time for us right now," the coach said. "But it isn't a conference tournament or the NCAA Tournament, where if you lose you're going home. We will play again Wednesday regardless of what happens. We just need to keep getting better, work hard and let the chips fall where they may."
Scouting The Competition
Houston, 9-18 last year, split the first two games of the Guardians Classic in the Missouri Regional, advancing to the final four as a wild card selection.
The Cougars opened with a 72-69 win over Sam Houston State. Lanny Smith, a 6-3 guard, had 22 points to lead 12 Cougars who scored in the win. Houston then fell to Missouri 77-61. Andre Owens, a 6-4 guard, had 16 points and Smith had 14 in the game against Mizzou.
Houston then played McNeese State in a non-tournament game Friday night, winning 85-72. Owens had 26 points, Smith scored 15 and 6-7 forward Ramon Dyer had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Chris Lawson, a 6-4 guard, also had 10 points.
Smith leads the Cougars with 17.0 points a game followed by Owens at 16.0 points per game. Dyer is the squad's leading rebounder with 6.0 a game.
"They are very athletic and long," Matta said of Houston. "They play very fast. They try to create as many turnovers as they can. They have great guards. I think this is a great test for us. Can we guard extremely quick guards and athletic wings?"
Tom Penders, formerly the coach at Columbia, Fordham, Texas and Rhode Island, is in his first year as the Houston coach. He is 529-362 in 30 years as a college head coach. He spent last year as a commentator for ESPN.
Ohio State is 3-0 all-time against Houston with the last meeting taking place in 1968 in the NCAA Final Four consolation game in Los Angeles, Calif. The Buckeyes fell to North Carolina 80-66 in the semifinals and then defeated Houston 89-85. Houston was ranked No. 1 heading into the 1968 Final Four.
Missouri is 2-1 with two Guardians wins (Brown and Houston) and a non-tournament home loss to Davidson, 84-81. If OSU plays Missouri, it would be a rematch from the 2002 NCAA Tournament in a game won by Mizzou 83-67. Creighton is 3-0 with two Guardians wins (Alcorn State and Iona) and a non-tournament game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
* Tony Stockman scored 26 points and hit two early 3-pointers to set the tone in leading Ohio State to the win over Delaware. The Buckeyes controlled the game from the outset, scoring the first nine points and later adding a 13-0 run to build a 41-19 lead at the half. Stockman hit 10 of 13 shots from the field including 6 of 9 3-pointers. The 26 points bettered his previous Ohio State high by a point, set a year ago against Penn State. J.J. Sullinger chipped in with 12 points for the Buckeyes, who hit 51 percent of their shots from the field. The Blue Hens had as many turnovers (19) as points in the first 20 minutes.
* Matta is in his fifth year as a college head coach. None of his previous teams have ever opened a year 4-0. OSU was last 3-0 in 2001-02, when it opened 6-0.
* Sullinger has connected on 75 percent of his shots from the field (15-20) in three games this season.
* Senior Brandon Fuss-Cheatham has made 50 percent of his attempts from the field (8-16) in three games. He connected on 39 percent a year ago and is a 33 percent shooter for his career. He played just six minutes in the win over Robert Morris after turning an ankle early in the first half. He played 22 minutes and recorded four assists in the win over Delaware.
* Sophomore Ivan Harris has started three games this year after making two all of last year.
* Stockman averages 15 points a game this season in 28 minutes a game. He tallied 13.6 points a game a year ago in 33.5 minutes a contest.
* Freshman Jamar Butler has played the most minutes of the freshman class to date (63/21.0 per game). He has not committed a turnover yet this season and has eight assists, which is tied for the team lead along with Fuss-Cheatham.
* Junior guard Je'Kel Foster has made the most of his court time off the bench this season. In three games he has averaged 8.3 points a game in 17.7 minutes a contest. He also has not made a turnover. He is shooting 50 percent from long range (6-12) and is second on the team with five steals.
* Junior Terence Dials is shooting 59 percent from the field (13-22), helping the team to a 52 percent shooting percentage on the year. Dials has made 55 percent of his shots for his career (225-412).
* Junior Matt Sylvester has made 80 percent of his shots this year in three games (8-10).
* In a span of 10 days, Ohio State will play five games after the season tipped off Nov. 15 in the opening round of the Guardians Classic.
After wrapping up the Guardians Classic, Ohio State then plays at home, this time at St. John Arena, Saturday against Chattanooga. Tickets for that game – OSU's first at SJA since February 1998 -- are still available by calling 1-800-GO BUCKS or on-line at www.hangonsloopy.com.