Ohio State Hitting The Road For Holiday

It's a situation every team has to deal with in order to have a successful season, but that does not mean head coach Thad Matta has a firm grip on how his team will fare in its first road game of the year. Get ready for Ohio State's tussle with Syracuse in this preview.

For the second consecutive season, Ohio State's freshmen will be without the pleasure of getting to ease into playing on the road in college.

Last season's national runner-up squad began the season with six home games before heading to tobacco country to take on the University of North Carolina and absorbing a 98-89 loss at the hands of the Tar Heels. This season, things are not much easier for the Buckeyes.

After two home games in the first two rounds of the NIT Season Tip-off to open the 2007-08 season, OSU now takes to the road for two games, the first of which comes against No. 21 Syracuse in what will be somewhat of a home game for the Orangemen.

Located within the state boundaries but a solid four hours away, Syracuse will face OSU in one of the country's most hallowed venues: Madison Square Garden. Much like last season, the Buckeyes will not have much time to get adjusted to life on the road.

As it turns out, that's how they like it.

"You always want to go up against the best competition," sophomore swingman David Lighty said. "That's why you play basketball, to compete against the best. That's just something that should be exciting if you're a true basketball player."

Syracuse boasts a roster with five freshmen, two of whom are the team's leading scorers. In last season's matchup with UNC, the Tar Heels started three freshmen and had five see playing time while the Buckeyes started two and played three.

However, of Syracuse's freshmen, only Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn are averaging more than 10 minutes per game through their first three games. For the Buckeyes, three freshman are playing more than 10 minutes each game.

OSU head coach Thad Matta said he feels Syracuse is likely going through some of the same growing pains as his team.

"I think that we're all still at such an early stage of our season," he said. "I think guys are going to continue to progress as the season goes on. I would imagine they are seeing the same thing we are."

This game marks the first road game for both teams, as the Orangemen have won three contests on their home court. Matta said he is looking forward to seeing how his team responds to being in a hostile situation away from home for the first time.

Although he has been coaching for 18 years – seven as a head coach – Matta said he has given up trying to figure out if a team is ready to play on the road.

"I used to sit and try to analyze," he said. "I said the night before the Green Bay game (this season), ‘I don't think we're ready to play' and they were. I can't figure it out, and I've tried. From how they huddle to when I come out and if they're sweating, I've tried to gauge everything and have never, ever, ever been right."

Matta declined to speculate on whether or not this year's team is ready for its first road game of the year, but Lighty seemed confident in his teammates.

"You can see it in their eyes and you can see it when they step on the court from the first four minutes of the game," he said. "I think we'll be ready."

Both Lighty and freshman Dallas Lauderdale have ties to Syracuse in that both had the Orangemen as one of their top college choices before eventually picking the Buckeyes. In addition, Matta said he had been recruiting Greene.

Regardless of the outcome, it should pay dividends for OSU down the road. Playing in the Dean E. Smith Center helped the Buckeyes learn lessons about themselves last season that paid off down the final stretch, Lighty said.

Games like that one, as well as Wednesday night's game against Syracuse (9:30 p.m., ESPN2), are part of playing at Ohio State, Matta said.

But despite not being able to get a feel as to how his team will respond to its first road test, Matta said any struggles will not be due to a lack of intensity in practice.

"That's why honestly you put so much more stock into your practices in the hope that there's carryover in the repetition after repetition and that in some way will help you be better come game night," he said. "I've always said I hope the games are easier than our practices. I think guys have a pretty good understanding of that."

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