Each of the eight teams in the BCA Classic are guaranteed three games. Ohio State, as the host, will play each of its games tonight, Saturday and Sunday in the evening session at 8 p.m. because of television commitments.
The Buckeyes open tournament play at 8 p.m. tonight against VMI from the Big South Conference. They would then play either Loyola (Chicago) or Princeton on Saturday at 8 p.m. With two wins, the Buckeyes would play one of four teams – Kent State, Alabama A&M, South Dakota State or IUPUI – for the tournament title at 8 p.m. Sunday.
The recent departure of walk-on Samuel Payne leaves Matta with just eight uniformed players to work with, although he and his staff were working on adding a couple of walk-ons. The situation will improve later this season when highly touted 7-0 center Greg Oden makes his debut after he recovers from wrist surgery (see update below).
Still, the prospect of playing three games in three days with such a thin roster is enough to keep Matta up late at night – despite the fact his team opens the year ranked No. 4 in the coaches poll and No. 7 in the AP preseason top 25.
"We're still saying we're in the beginning stages," Matta said. "We haven't gone through a scouting report. We haven't done a game day walkthrough. Do we pick things up (in a game)? It is a scary thought. The experience factor, you can't put a price on it. That's why I have such an open mind with this team."
But Matta agreed to host the BCA Classic for a reason – to season his young team.
"I hope it is very valuable for us," Matta said. "For where our team is right now, I am excited to lace them up and go out and play. With the turnaround time we will have, we don't have a lot of time to break things down. You just turn around and play again.
"As we come out of this, next week will be a big week for us. We'll look at all the things we did well or didn't do well."
The Buckeyes won a pair of lopsided exhibition games last week, taking wins over Findlay and Walsh. Senior guard Ron Lewis led OSU in both games with 17 points against Findlay and 21 against Walsh.
Freshman guard Daequan Cook had 13 points and eight rebounds against Findlay, but logged just four points when mired in foul trouble against Walsh.
Newcomers Othello Hunter and Mike Conley Jr. joined Lewis as the only OSU players in double figures in both games. Hunter, a 6-9 junior, had 11 points against Findlay and 12 points and eight rebounds against Walsh. Conley, a 6-0 guard, had 10 points and seven assists against Findlay and 11 points and nine assists against Walsh. In two games, Conley's assist-to-turnover ratio is 16-to-1.
Matta did not commit to a starting lineup for Friday. Conley and junior guard Jamar Butler (15 points, six assists against Walsh) started each of the exhibitions. Lewis, senior forward Ivan Harris and junior center Matt Terwilliger started against Findlay, while they were replaced by Cook, Hunter and freshman wing David Lighty (13 points against Walsh) for the second exhibition.
"I see us getting better," Matta said. "Just from Wednesday to Sunday I thought we were a better basketball team. I think in the practices this week we've gotten better. But now we see how we handle when we're down six in the first half. We've also seen some foul trouble. Those are things you just don't know about until you get in and experience it."
Some help may be on the way as Matta said he and his staff are considering the addition of at least two walk-on players.
"We are in the process of adding a couple walk-ons," he said. "We are still getting the paperwork taken care of. Hopefully, we'll be in better shape than having three guys at the scorer's table to check in and walking back to the bench and nobody is there."
Scouting The Field
VMI, OSU's opening opponent, is coming off a 7-20 campaign a year ago. The Keydets beat up on a pair of lower division opponents, scoring 120 and 152 points in their two exhibition games.
"I don't think we could score 136 points in 40 minutes with nobody guarding us," Matta joked when asked about VMI's average output. "Obviously, they're playing extremely fast. When I was in the Southern Conference in 1995-96, VMI actually played a lot like that. They're firing threes and running and trapping. I know it's a different coach now, but I'd venture they are very similar.
"I know they have some guys returning and it should be an interesting challenge for us."
Junior forward Reggie Williams led nine VMI players in double figures with 29 points in the first exhibition win over Emory and Henry. Senior guard Fred Robinson led five Keydets in double figures with 26 points in the exhibition win over Washington and Lee.
Loyola is coming off of its best season in over 20 years. The Ramblers finished 19-11 last year and are tabbed as the favorite to win the Horizon league. They will face Princeton University (12-15 last year), which rallied by winning nine of its last 12 games to finish second in the Ivy League last season.
Kent State (25-9) enters the year as the defending Mid-American Conference champion. The Golden Flashes are coming off of their first NCAA tournament berth since 2002 and are looking to stay atop the MAC, although they lost many of the key players from last year's squad. They are matched up against the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State.
Alabama A&M will represent the SWAC as it competes against 2005 Mid Continent Conference co-champion IUPUI in the opening round.
Here is the schedule for the BCA Classic:
Today: IUPUI vs. Alabama A&M, noon; Kent State vs. South Dakota State, 2 p.m.; Loyola (Chicago) vs. Princeton, 5:30 p.m.; Ohio State vs. VMI, 8 p.m.
Saturday: Games 1-2 losers, noon; Games 3-4 losers, 2 p.m.; Games 1-2 winners, 5:30 p.m.; Games 3-4 winners, 8 p.m. (Ohio State will play in the 8 p.m. game each night.)
Sunday: Seventh place game, noon; fifth place game, 2 p.m.; third place game, 5:30 p.m.; championship game, 8 p.m.
As part of Wednesday's press conference, Matta shared the latest on Oden's recovery from wrist surgery over the summer. Oden continues to wear a protective cast on his right wrist after a screw inserted in his wrist to hold a bone in place was removed.
"He's doing well," Matta said. "(Today) will be three weeks since the screw was taken out. He is pretty much doing the same things he has done. We still don't know anything definitive for where he is. We are kind of at Mother Nature's mercy as to how well he is and how quickly he can come back.
"For now, he is still in the immobilization stage. He hasn't moved his wrist in three weeks."
As far as Matta knows, Jan. 1 is still the target date for Oden to debut for the Buckeyes. (OSU actually opens Big Ten play at home Jan. 2 against Indiana.)
"That was the date that was set and nobody has come to me and said, ‘Thad, we're looking at Dec. 15,' " Matta said. "We just have to keep evaluating to see if he progresses and see if he could get back earlier.
"But I don't want to put Greg in a position where he is not able and can't move his hand," Matta added in ruling out whether his star center would play in any of OSU's seven November games, including the Nov. 29 showdown at North Carolina.
Matta said, to his knowledge, there have been no setbacks, though.
"There has been nothing to say, ‘Oh my God, there is a red flag,' " the coach said. "If we finish the fourth week (of immobilization) and we take the cast off and the X-rays show the bone is healed and we can't see where the screw was, then maybe he would play in November.
"But the chances of that happening would be a freak of nature."
Oden will need to be able to show he has regained strength in his wrist before doctors will clear him, Matta said.
"The big thing is we don't want somebody to bump into him and fracture whatever bone it is," Matta said. "The key word now is grip strength and how much grip strength he gets back. Obviously, we haven't tested grip strength."
Matta was asked if he was tempted to see Oden return before Jan. 1, particularly so he can play in the Dec. 23 showdown at defending NCAA champion Florida.
"Honestly, I haven't thought a whole lot about that," Matta said. "I say that because I know this – we better get a lot before we go to Florida across the board. I thought about a healthy Greg Oden going to Florida. I haven't thought about a banged up Greg Oden going to Florida.
"I think that game will help us down the road as a young team. But by no stretch is that game a make or break on our season."
Matta said Oden is holding up through the layoff.
"I know he's tired of running," Matta said. "I keep telling him, ‘Big picture, Man.' He is on the bike during part of practice. He does anything we do where there is not a lot of contact. He's probably stronger than he's been in his entire life with the work he's done this summer."
With expectations high for this season, OSU has sold roughly 14,000 tickets for every home regular season games. In fact, 10 regular season games – the eight Big Ten games and nonconference match-ups with Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 18) and Tennessee (Jan. 13) – are already sold out to the tune of 19,100.
"Those games are sold out primarily because of the student tickets," said OSU ticket director Bill Jones. "The Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee games are part of the student ticket."
There are still tickets available to the three evening sessions of the BCA Classic (at $28, $23 and $13 each) as well as games at VCA against San Francisco (Nov. 20), Valparaiso (Dec. 2), Cleveland State (Dec. 9), Iowa State (Dec. 19) and Coppin State (Dec. 30). Tickets for those games are available for $24, $19 and $14.
There are also tickets available for OSU's Nov. 24 game with Youngstown State at Nationwide Arena ($26, $21 and $16).
"For those games, we have anywhere from 1,200 or 1,300 tickets up to 3,000 or 4,000 tickets remaining," Jones said.
The presale for OSU basketball tickets is comparable to the levels the school experienced after its 1999 NCAA Final Four run.
"You could compare it to that season (1999-2000)," Jones said. "I think it might be better than that season. Typically, the students jump on after that kind of season. Right now, we are probably in better position than we were that year."
The main seating change this year has seen the media tables moved from behind the east basket to the northeast corner. Plus, the increase in student seating caused some longtime season ticket holders to be moved.
"Moving the media opened up more of a student section behind the (east) basket," Jones said. "We will have 2,000 students on the lower level and behind the baskets. But with that happening there were some people who were moved who were accustomed to sitting in the lower level."
And, to be clear, OSU will play in the evening session of the BCA Classic each night. A separate ticket will be required to attend the early session each day, particularly for those who want to see Kent State's opener on Friday.
"We included the evening session in all of our season tickets, excluding the students," Jones said. "It was included for the PSL holders as well as our faculty and staff and our general public season tickets. If you want to go to the afternoon session, you'll need to buy a ticket to those."
It is assumed that most of OSU's games televised as part of the ESPN-Plus local and regional syndication package will be shown in Columbus on WBNS-TV (Ch. 10).
However, WBNS was unable to clear any of the BCA Classic games due to commitments to carry regular programming from the CBS network. Instead, WBNS-TV has placed these three games on its affiliate, Ohio News Network. But, these games will only be shown in the central Ohio market on ONN. Those outside Columbus will receive high school football tonight and Saturday at 9:30 p.m. with the Columbus market joining those games in progress.
It is unclear if any other ESPN-Plus outlets in and around Ohio will clear any of those three BCA Classic games.
According to the Big Ten, one or more of the games may also be shown on FSN Ohio (Saturday and Sunday's games), MASN (Baltimore) and COX2 out of Omaha (Saturday).
Check your local listings for those details. The OSU games should be included in the ESPN Full Court pay-per-view package.