The Buckeyes (5-0) will play Youngstown State (2-3) on Friday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. (Nationwide is one of the sites for the first and second rounds of the 2007 NCAA Tournament and OSU needs to play at least one game there to be considered a host school.)
Ohio State (No. 4 AP/No. 3 ESPN/USA Today) will travel to No. 2 North Carolina next Wednesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta mentioned last week, due to having such a young team, that the Buckeyes had only installed the first page of a deep playbook. And a week later, that's still the case. Matta doesn't want to overload his team too early in the season.
"Honestly we still haven't put… we're not even close to having everything in," he said. "And so much of that is predicated on who we're playing and especially as you get deeper into a season you see similarities with defense and we'll put wrinkles into what we're doing for Friday night's game. Youngstown is a team that will set up some zone and man-to-man and we have to get our attack down."
The Penguins' star player is 6-4 senior guard Quin Humphrey who leads the team in scoring (18.0), rebounding (5.9) and assists (3.1). Youngstown State was picked to finish last in the nine-team Horizon League. Loyola-Chicago – which the Buckeyes' defeated 87-75 on Nov. 11 in the BCA Classic – was picked to win the conference.
Youngstown State gave Michigan a decent game in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, but the Wolverines prevailed 65-56.
"I look at a game like this kind of like the one in Indianapolis (on Dec. 16 at the Wooden Classic against Cincinnati) and hopefully it will prepare us for the Big Ten Tournament, or the NCAA Tournament type of environment," Matta said. "I've always tried to play these type of games and the fortunate thing for us is that it is in town. I've only been in Nationwide Arena one time (for a Faith Hill and Tim McGraw concert)."
Ohio State freshman guard Daequan Cook has enjoyed an impressive beginning to his college career. The 6-5 product of Dayton Dunbar leads the Buckeyes in scoring (18.0) and is second in rebounding (6.2).
"I've always said this about Daequan: I think he has a very high basketball IQ," Matta said. "Now it just comes to the discipline of doing it the right way. And basketball is such a different game because everything is changing continuously, but having that understanding of this is how we want to do things (is important).
"I thought a tremendous thing last week after the Eastern Kentucky game was Daequan said, ‘Coach, I went under that screen and I know I wasn't supposed to.' But he kept playing. And getting guys to recognize through scouting or whatever that this is our system, that's when you know you're making strides."
Cook has taken on an early role as OSU's "sixth man." Eventually he might start, but right now Matta feels comfortable bringing him off the bench.
"I think for him, kind of getting that feel and seeing the game develop, he has a feel for what our opponents are going to do to open the game," Matta said. "I think it does keep him… it maybe slows his mind down a little bit and when he comes into the game he has more of an understanding of what he needs to do."
With such a highly-touted recruiting class, Matta was asked if he needed to drill home the point of leaving egos at the door.
"Not really, because when they came in, they were grounded," he said. "I think they had a sense of who they were and an appreciation of the college basketball game. We were laughing the other day, someone (a reporter last year) asked Greg Oden after he scored nine points in a game what the coaches at Ohio State thought. And he said, "Well, hopefully they will appreciate the fact that we won three state championships.' And I think that says a lot about who he is, as well as David (Lighty), Daequan and Michael (Conley Jr.). I know these guys have tremendous respect for the four returning players and the fact that they won a Big Ten championship."
Matta was asked if there is a chance that Oden could play against North Carolina next week.
"I doubt it," he said. "I don't think so, but we don't ever rule anything out, but I don't think it will happen."
The 7-1 Oden would have been the No. 1 overall pick of the NBA draft last year and he is sure to make a huge impact once he suits up for the Buckeyes. But Matta doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself and predict too much out of Oden.
"I think time is going to tell on that," Matta said. "When he comes back, how capable is he? What can he do exactly? But I think the one thing that I've always loved about Greg – there's a lot of them – but one is his speed and one is his defensive mentality."
ESPN FEATURES MATTA
ESPN's Sportscenter did a behind-the-scenes feature on Matta and OSU's basketball program that was aired on Monday. The piece gave viewers an inside look at Matta's grueling practices which are usually closed to the media.
"I didn't see it, no," Matta said. "But somebody's got a tape of it so I'll have to check it out."
Not that Matta needs it with the way he recruits, but the piece painted him in a very good light and appeared to be very good exposure for the program.
"Yeah, as long as it was good," Matta said with a laugh. "But no, that was good that they chose to do that. I trust Jay Bilas and what he does."
COOK SERVING UP BIG GAMES
It didn't take Cook long to establish himself as scorer on the college level. He was expected to come in right away and produce, but there was the feeling that he might need a month or so to really get in the flow. So much for that.
"I'm just playing my role," Cook said. "Every player on the team has a role and my role is to help score and play defense and that's all I'm doing."
Cook is looking forward to getting Oden in the fold. He thinks it will open up the floor for the rest of the Buckeyes.
"Yeah, he's going to fit right in," Cook said. "We have excellent shooters on the perimeter and adding him in the middle is just going to make us better."
Cook was asked if it's been an easy transition to the college game in part because he's used to playing with Conley (and Oden) from their AAU days.
"Yeah, I think that helped with some of us playing AAU ball together and we just carried it over to college with us," he said.
When asked to name the biggest difference between the high school and college games, Cook said: "Everybody is just as good as you. It's just who works the hardest and who comes to play the most in college basketball."
As for Lighty, he's not putting up big statistics so far (7.8 points, 3.2 rebounds per game) but he's already established himself as one of the best defenders on the team.
"I think it's going good so far," Lighty said. "I'm just trying to do everything that (Matta) wants us to do – go out there and execute and try and play defense and try to get a win every day."
Lighty has been a good defensive player for as long as he can remember. A lot of players (like OSU's Jamar Butler) turn into good defensive players on the college level, but didn't play much defense in high school. But Lighty has always taken pride in his defense.
"Yeah, I've always just had an all-around game and it's something that I've really liked since I was young," he said. "My coaches have always instilled in me to play defense and that's what I'm trying to do here."
Oden walked by (still wearing a cast/wrap on his right wrist) as Lighty was being interviewed and Lighty is counting down the days until Oden suits up for OSU.
"Hopefully it will just make us that much better," he said. "It will add another dimension to our team. He will grab a lot more rebounds and hopefully clog up the area in the paint a lot more."