Buckeyes Prepare To Change Defense

In each of the team's six early-season games, Ohio State has utilized a 3-2 zone defense that has frustrated opponents and not allowed opposing teams to hit with regularity from beyond the arc. Saturday night they will face the nation's top three-point shooting team with the possibility that they will have to play man defense for the first time -- in a game -- this season.

In a return to his old stomping grounds, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has one big matchup staring him in the face for Saturday's game against Butler.

With a young team still grasping the intricacies of playing collegiate basketball, the Buckeyes have exclusively utilized a 3-2 zone defense through the first six games of the season. In their matchup with No. 16 Butler, the Buckeyes will be tasked with stopping the country's top three-point shooting team.

Averaging 12.8 treys per contest, the Bulldogs are coming off a performance in the Great Alaska Shootout that saw them hit a tournament-record 47 threes en route to capturing the tournament's championship. In the title game against Texas Tech, Butler was 16 of 24 (66.7 percent) from beyond the arc.

As a result, Matta said his team has to be prepared to switch to man-to-man defense for the first time this season should the Bulldogs start hitting early from deep. The question is, though: Will they be ready?

OSU is at the tail end of an 11-day stretch that has seen them play five games, four of which have been against ranked foes. The tenor of practice has been so focused on preparing for the team's next opponent that little focus has been paid on the Buckeyes themselves.

Still, practice on the team's man-to-man defense has continued throughout the young season purely out of necessity.

"When we do get to practice we do it a lot," Matta said. "We know people are going to guard us man to man so we just carry over to what we're trying to get accomplished."

The zone might have a few added benefits that help the team in other ways. Through six games, senior point guard Jamar Butler has averaged 35.3 minutes per game.

Although the time spend in the zone is supposed to be as strenuous as playing man-to-man defense, Matta said it might be helping to keep players such as Butler fresh.

"I think we're hoping that he's playing as hard man or zone with the effort," Matta said. "Maybe he's not chasing (Michigan State guard) Drew Neitzel off 19 double screens or something like that, but for the most part he's got a big area that he's responsible for and he's got to get that done."

Senior forward Othello Hunter said his legs feel the same regardless of whether the team is playing zone or man defense.

"I think in zone, that's where people lay down a little bit and start slacking but in the zone we play you have to be aware of everything," he said. "If the ball's on one side and it's going to the other side you have to run all the way to the other side and get in front of the post player who's down there. It's like a matchup zone. It's like man, but not really."

On Thursday, the Buckeyes managed to take some time to watch film of themselves for the first time since the current stretch of games began Nov. 21 against Syracuse. Once the Butler game is in the books, the team will have nine days until Coppin State travels to Value City Arena.

Matta said the team needs practice time right now to work on things they need to get better at and that he is looking forward to getting back to that.

For Hunter, not so much.

"I know everybody just wants to play," he said. "We don't want to practice, but at the same time to become a good player you have to practice. You have to learn new things, and to learn new things you have to practice."

The Buckeyes tip off against Butler at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The game will be televised by ESPNU.

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