The Beginning Of A New Season

Tonight marks the first chance for the 2007-08 Buckeyes to begin forging their own identity. With a paying crowd looking on, Ohio State will take to the court for an exhibition game against Ashland. While it will be the first chance to see what the Buckeyes will be like this season, it might not tell all about what type of season awaits.

While a smattering of onlookers will no doubt file into Value City Arena on Wednesday night to get their first glimpses as to what this season's team will look like, there will be another group of 13 people just as anxious to see the Buckeyes.

That would be the 13 members of the Ohio State men's basketball team, who will take the court for an exhibition game against Ashland that will mark the first chance to see what this year's squad is made up.

Despite nearly two full weeks of practice in preparation for the season, head coach Thad Matta said that, as of Tuesday afternoon, he had not yet selected a starting lineup.

"If you asked me right now who's going to start, I don't know," he said. "I've got a pretty good idea. There's certain things we're trying to get answered in terms of rotations and who's playing well with who and if we slide this guy to this spot. We probably haven't gotten enough reps of guys at the different positions they need to play, but that's being 18 practices into it."

That is not a new situation for the Buckeyes, however. When OSU opened up against Findlay in an exhibition game one season ago, guard Jamar Butler said no one knew what the starting lineup was going to be until the game assembled for its pregame meeting.

Butler is the team's lone returning starter, which is not a new situation either. Reprising his role on a team of talented youngsters, Butler figures to be the only guaranteed starter for the game.

As for the rest of the team, the best guess as to who will play will come down to which of the team's newcomers can best adapt to playing defense at the collegiate level.

Not surprisingly, sophomore swingman David Lighty said he hopes to see solid play on the defensive side of the ball in Wednesday's game.

"I'd say there are times that we look like we get it, but then there are times where we break down," he said. "That's going to come during games. There's going to be possessions where you miss a screen or you don't hedge or something like that."

Whatever the starting lineup ends up being against the Eagles, Matta said there is no guarantee that it will be a harbinger of what fans will see as the season progresses. Forward Matt Terwilliger – dubbed "Twig" by his teammates – started the game against Findlay but did not start another game the rest of the way.

In the team's second exhibition game four days later against Walsh, just Butler and freshman Mike Conley were the only players to start both contests. They would factor into the starting lineup for the duration of the season.

When the season began against Virginia Military Institute on Nov. 10, the Buckeyes had their third starting lineup in as many contests. However, of the five starters against VMI, just three had started against Findlay while four of the team's starters against Walsh went on to start the season-opener.

In addition to the usual shuffling of the lineup as the coaching staff tries to figure out the team's top five players, this season's Buckeyes could feature several different looks throughout the season. Matta said each player on the roster can play two different positions, and some – like Lighty – can play four.

"We're more versatile than we were last year," Lighty said. "Then we had a true center who was always in the blocks and we had to get it to him in the post, but with Kosta (Koufos) and Othello (Hunter) and Dallas (Lauderdale) and Twig, they can all run the court pretty well and get up and down."

The last time OSU took the court, it was for an intra-squad scrimmage Oct. 20 at VCA. Afterward, Matta seemed less than pleased with his team's effort, particularly on defense.

Now, with the chance to get out and bang against someone wearing a different colored jersey, the head coach said he is just hoping to see some sort of progress. The goal is not to look like a championship team just yet, but to look like a team that is moving toward that goal.

While those do not sound like high expectations, they appear to be realistic ones based on what Matta is hoping to see when the first whistle of the season is blown.

"I think it's ironic that we're playing on Halloween because this could be scary," Matta said.

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