But as second-year head coach Thad Matta unveiled his 10-man team on Thursday afternoon at the Schottenstein Center, he said he was only concerned with short term goals. The big picture, Matta said, can wait.
"I'm going to take a completely different approach," said Matta, whose team opens practice with little fanfare Friday night. "We're going to be a short term goal oriented team. The things I think are important, we better be better at them next Friday than we are this Friday. I don't know what this team is capable of doing. I think they've learned that they want to compete.
"We won two Big Ten road games last year. We weren't that good. We've got to be able to win on the road this year."
Matta has five starters returning from last year's 20-12 team that was not eligible for postseason play. After the Buckeyes defeated No. 1- ranked and previously unbeaten Illinois in their regular season finale, there was much sentiment that OSU would have been an NCAA team a year ago.
"My thing is tomorrow night at 9 o'clock we're fortunate to begin practice," Matta said. "And I know we have to get better at these things. We have to get to where we can do those things before we can ever think about championships or the NCAA Tournament or projection of wins. I think I would drive myself crazy if I opened myself up to what this team can be because I honestly don't know.
"I don't want them thinking about a lot beyond the fact we better be able to guard the basketball better and play better post defense and shoot free throws better. We want to continue to take better care of the basketball and we have to rebound the ball. That's where my focus will be with these guys as we start practice.
"I think one of the biggest challenges you have as a coach is taking all of the outside peripheral stuff and basically saying, ‘We have to get better at the fundamentals of basketball.' That's always where my focus is with them in terms of expectations or proving something. I want these guys to play the best basketball they are capable of playing."
For Matta and Ohio State, much of the focus has been on next year, when he figures to welcome one of the nation's top recruiting classes on campus. But the coach said he wants this year's team to excel and make a name for itself.
"I'm not overlooking them," he said.
One of the key returnees is center Terence Dials, a 6-9 senior who averaged 15.9 points and 7.9 rebounds while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors a year ago. Dials is the only current team member who has played in an NCAA Tournament game. In his fifth year at OSU, Dials made the NCAA as a freshman in 2002.
"Coach Matta just mentioned I'm the only one on the team who has played in the postseason," Dials said. "I don't know if my experience is going to mean anything. It is a distant memory. I told the guys it's an exciting time. We know sitting at home and watching March Madness isn't fun. They understand how important it is to get there."
OSU was ruled out of NCAA play last December. But they did more than just play out the string. The win over Illinois gave OSU an 8-8 Big Ten record.
"The only reason we made it through last year is because we're a tough bunch of kids and Coach Matta and his staff," said senior forward Matt Sylvester, whose three-point shot sank Illinois. "We relied on each other. It brought us together as a group and made us hungry to play.
"Last year was like going through a dark tunnel and you could see the light at the end. Then, when you got there, bam, it shut. This year, our goals are to win a Big Ten championship and try to make it to the NCAA Tournament. With the way that tournament is if you can win a game or two, you can get rolling."
Another key senior is 6-5 guard J.J. Sullinger, who averaged 9.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game a year ago.
"We're trying to get better as a team and get better as individuals and just try to be the best team we can be," Sullinger said. "Some of these guys don't even look the same as last year. Matt Terwilliger is one. He looks like a totally different person."
Leading The Way
Matta announced that Dials, last year's single captain, would be joined by his classmates – Sullinger, Sylvester and guard Je'Kel Foster – as captains this season.
"As I told them, I've not been a huge captain guy," Matta said. "A couple of teams I made myself the captain because I didn't think we had the leadership that we needed. I think each of those four guys has a unique story and some things they can bring to this team to help them get better. I like each scenario that each guy has had from injuries they've been through to Je'Kel's situation and what he just went through (with hurricanes in his home state of Mississippi) in September. All four of them are good kids."
Matta provided comments on each of the seniors:
* On Dials -- "With Terence, it all starts with getting him in great shape, both physically and mentally. I hope Terence can continue to develop. I think his game can expand."
* On Sullinger -- "I've really seen James grow as a person in the time I've been with him. He's been a three-year starter in college and averaged 10 points across the board. You hope as he goes into his senior year he's carrying kind of hatchet."
* On Foster -- "What Je'Kel has meant to this team has been invaluable from the standpoint of leadership and competitiveness. We wanted Je'Kel to become more athletic and explosive and I think he's done that."
* On Sylvester -- "Sylvester is coming off what I thought was a pretty good year last year. He played more consistently down the stretch. But he was one that needed to get in better shape to compete more, and he's done that."
Dials, Sullinger and Foster were joined in the starting lineup last year by junior forward Ivan Harris and sophomore guard Jamar Butler. Sylvester served as the sixth man. Also back is sophomore forward Matt Terwilliger.
Three newcomers on the roster this year include Bowling Green transfer Ronald Lewis, a 6-4 guard; JUCO transfer Sylvester Mayes, a 6-1 guard; and true freshman Brayden Bell, a 6-8 center.
Men's basketball programs are permitted to have 13 players on scholarship. But the Buckeyes will start the year with just 10 scholarships. (Ricardo Billings and Jermyl Jackson-Wilson each transferred out last year.)
"I like it because I think guys will get great reps," Matta said. "There will be nowhere to hide in practice. If you don't bring it, you will definitely stand out."
With such a small group, Sullinger said the Buckeyes must stand together.
"You can have 14 or 15 guys and if two or three of them aren't on the same page, I think that's worse than having 10 guys or even eight guys," Sullinger said. "We're excited because we're a close knit group and we're on the same page. Our biggest concern is winning."
Matta confirmed that he will hold walk-on tryouts next week to see if any students meet the team's needs as practice players.
"We'll have walk-on tryouts next week and see who is out there," he said.
OSU has exhibitions against Findlay Nov. 6 and Ashland Nov. 13 before opening regular season play Nov. 20 against Chicago State.
2005-06 Ohio State Men's Basketball Schedule
Date Day TV Opponent Time (EST) Series
6 Sun. Ashland 2 p.m. exh.
13 Sun. Findlay 2 p.m. exh.
20 Sun. ESPN-Plus Chicago State 2 p.m. 2-0
22 Tues. ESPN-Plus Butler 8 p.m. 29-8
28 Mon. ESPN2 1-Virginia Tech(#) 7:30 p.m. 1-4
10 Sat. ESPN at St. Joeseph's(#) 2 p.m. 4-0
12 Mon. ESPN-Plus Norfolk State 8 p.m. 1st Meeting
14 Wed. ESPN-Plus Belmont 8 p.m. 1st Meeting
17 Sat. ESPN2 at Iowa State(&) 8 p.m. 3-0
23 Fri. ESPN-Plus Tennessee State 8 p.m. 2-0
28 Wed. ESPN-Plus Gardner Webb 8 p.m. 1st Meeting
31 Sat. ESPN-Plus Louisiana State(&) 1 p.m. 0-1
5 Thu. ESPN-Plus Penn State 8 p.m. 18-13
7 Sat. CBS at Indiana(#) 4 p.m. 70-98
11 Wed. ESPN-Plus at Purdue 8 p.m. 73-78
15 Sun. CBS Michigan State(&) 1/4:30 p.m. 46-58
18 Wed. ESPN Wisconsin(&) 8:30 p.m. 80-61
21 Sat. ESPN Regional at Penn State 12:05 p.m.
28 Sat. ESPN-Plus at Iowa(&) 8 p.m. 66-72
30 Mon. ESPN-Plus Florida A&M 8 p.m. 1-0
4 Sat. ESPN Regional Minnesota(&) 3 p.m. 74-53
9 Thu. ESPN at Michigan 7 p.m. 83-70
12 Sun. CBS Illinois(&) 1 p.m. 60-100
15 Wed. ESPN-Plus at Wisconsin(&) 8 p.m.
18 Sat. ESPN Regional Northwestern Noon 105-44
22 Wed. ESPN-Plus at Michigan State(&) 8 p.m.
25 Sat. CBS Michigan 1:30 p.m.
1 Wed. ESPN-Plus at Northwestern 8 p.m.
5 Sun. ESPN-Plus Purdue Noon/1 or 2 p.m.
9-12 Thu.-Sun at Big Ten Tournament at Indianapolis.
1-Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Columbus, Ohio
& 2005 NCAA Tournament Participant
# 2005 (Postseason) NIT Participant