Basketball Buckeyes Set For Exhibition

OSU coach Thad Matta has crammed as much as he could for his young team into its first two weeks of practice. He'll see how they did learning all of that material when his team hosts Division II Findlay for an exhibition Wednesday at 7 p.m.

After two weeks of grueling practice, coach Thad Matta will road test his 2006-07 Ohio State men's basketball team on Wednesday night.

The Buckeyes will host Division II Findlay for an exhibition at 7 p.m. at Value City Arena. (There is no television coverage of this exhibition or Sunday's game against Walsh at 1 p.m.)

"Really, I think it's just a gauge of where our real weaknesses are," said Matta, who is beginning his third season as the OSU coach. "Quite honestly, I don't think we're ready to play yet. Moving things up like we have, that has made it really challenging. We could face some situations tomorrow night that we're not ready for. But I don't mind that. I think that will help us teach better once it's over.

"Hopefully, we'll see improvement in some key areas like transition defense, rebounding, staying in a stance throughout a possession."

The game will be the VCA debut for four of OSU's five new players as JUCO transfer Othello Hunter and true freshmen Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and David Lighty will make their first appearance in OSU uniforms. The other true freshman, highly touted 7-1 center Greg Oden, will be sidelined until some point at midseason after undergoing wrist surgery over the summer.

"I will be interested to see how we play when there are people in the stands and how we handle situations," Matta said. "I want to see where our intensity level is and whether we are able to sustain it for consecutive minutes of play without breakdowns."

Matta has five holdovers from last year's 26-6 team that won the Big Ten championship, although junior guard Jamar Butler is the team's lone returning starter.

Last week, the USA Today coaches poll listed OSU as the nation's No. 4 team in the preseason poll – behind only defending national champion Florida, 2005 champion North Carolina and Kansas. The Buckeyes were also the preseason media pick to win the Big Ten title.

Matta said those high expectations will be hard to live up to – particularly without Oden, who may not debut until the start of the Big Ten season in January. That means he could potentially miss nonconference road games at North Carolina (Nov. 29) and Florida (Dec. 23). The Buckeyes host VMI in the first round of the three-day BCA Classic Nov. 10 to open the season.

"I spoke with (Kansas coach) Bill Self earlier just about what they went through with a young team last year," Matta said. "He was phenomenal. He said that you as a coach, you have to know you have a long way to go. If you ever put yourself in a position where you say, ‘We have to be really good by this date,' it's not going to happen. It's impossible for that to happen.

"You have to keep the big picture in mind when you play with a young team. We haven't picked 10 things we want to be good at tomorrow. We have picked four. We're not ready to play yet, but I want to make sure we're making improvement in some of these areas."

Matta said he is taking a page out of Jim Tressel's book in bringing his young team along.

"I think we would do ourselves a major disservice if we allowed ourselves to look at it," Matta said of the polls. "I look at Coach Tressel and what his program is doing this year. It's funny, they're motto is what our motto has been for the last two years – let's just get a little better today. That's what we've tried to do.

"I'm not worried about VMI today. I'm not worried about North Carolina or Florida. I'm worried about our 3 o'clock practice today."

Matta was asked for his assessment on the team after two weeks.

"I think we're making strides," he said. "I don't think we're close to where we need to be. As a coach, you wrestle with so many different options. You're trying to teach intensity, the system, intelligence, how you want to play, effort and concentration. But teaching the game and the system is always in the back of our minds.

"Being as youthful as we are, I don't think we've stepped backwards yet. We still have a long, long way to go in a lot of different areas. I give these guys credit. I think they have worked hard. They've been coachable. I think we're moving forward."

It seems a certainty that Butler will be a starter at one of the guard spots and that 6-8 Matt Terwilliger will likely fill the center role until Oden's debut. But Matta did not commit to a starting lineup when he met with the media on Tuesday.

"Honestly, I told them everybody is starting," he said. "I mean that from the standpoint is the one thing I have learned is we do need everybody to be ready to go as we move forward. That has been one of the unique challenges. When you're practicing with 10 guys, I always have a backup practice plan in case somebody gets poked in the eye or whatever it is and we have to go to Plan B."

Matta presented the returning players their 2006 Big Ten championship rings in a ceremony right in front of the new players.

"A lot of people have asked me about the separation between the two (groups), and it has been tremendous," Matta said. "The stages we were at when we were recruiting these guys we were saying, ‘Come in here and help us rebuild this program.'

"Well, they get here and there are five guys who helped us with the Big Ten championship and won 26 games and been a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They got their respect.

"We handed out our rings the other night in the second practice and we only handed out five to the players. Those guys are looking and saying, ‘I owe them this respect.' That has been great."

Over the weekend, Matta told media members at the Big Ten preseason meetings in Chicago the target date remains Jan. 1 for Oden's debut.

"I go to bed every night knowing we are doing everything we can," Matta said. "We're doing it the right way to get him back. The unknown question is when Greg comes back is how much does the hand move? Will he have to play in a cast, which he is going to have to early on. How much does that allow him to move his hand.

"I think his conditioning is pretty good, but it is a lot different when you're running sprints to where you have to make decisions and change from offense to defense. Greg is anxious to get back. He loves to mess with me and line up in drills when he knows he can't do them. He'll start laughing at me when I tell him to get out. He wants to be in there as much as he can."

The Players' Take

* Butler on his young teammates debut at VCA -- "I think it will be great for them to get a feel for the college environment. We are getting sick of beating up each other in practice. We're looking forward to it. We'll be looking for a rotation."

* Butler on what the young players bring -- "All of them can score. They look to score. They are tough kids who love the game of basketball."

* Terwilliger on the exhibition opener -- "We are all excited about getting it going. This should be a good gauge of how we have done in the preseason. It will be good for us to see where we're at."

* Senior guard Ron Lewis on the newcomers' debut -- "This will be their first game here and I'm sure they will have some jitters. Hopefully, we'll come out and play hard and everything picks up. A game is different than a practice. It could go either way. I've never been in a game with them before. They've been doing good in practice. They've been playing in front of crowds their whole career."

* Terwilliger on Hunter -- "People are going to be surprised at his athleticism. He is real long and real athletic. He should be able to bang with some of the bigger guys in the Big Ten."

Regarding Findlay

This is the second year that Division I teams have played lower level schools in exhibition games. Last year, OSU shrugged off a sluggish first half to defeat Findlay 83-53 at VCA.

Findlay has four starters back from a team that went 25-5 a year ago.

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