Right now, things look good. The Buckeyes are riding a season-high eight-game winning streak and are a perfect 3-0 in Big Ten play. Confidence is running high, and practices are spirited by all accounts.
But whether the Buckeyes are legitimate contenders or mere pretenders will be demonstrated during the coming week. Next up are three road contests that will see OSU face a young Purdue team in West Lafayette on Saturday before match-ups with No. 6 Michigan State and No. 8 Tennessee.
Before head coach Thad Matta and his charges can start thinking about stopping Drew Neitzel or fending off a Tennessee team bent on revenge from a season ago, they must first concern themselves with the Boilermakers – and there is plenty to be concerned about.
Purdue is not receiving votes in either major poll, but the Boilermakers are smarting after a 78-75 road loss to MSU the last time they took the court. In addition to proving their worth against the preseason Big Ten favorites, the Boilermakers are 25-2 in their last 27 home games.
It all adds up to a daunting task for the Buckeyes, who will be playing their second conference road game of the season.
"I think Purdue is obviously playing very good basketball," Matta said. "I think they're a little bit like all of us, going through some ups and downs. For the youth that they have, those guys are doing a great job of playing together. They're really embraced the system."
The Boilermakers have three players averaging between 10 and 11 points per game. Freshman swingman Scott Martin leads the way with a 10.5 points-per-game average. He is trailed – barely – by sophomore guard Keaton Grant's 10.4 points per game and freshman forward Robbie Hummell's 10.1.
It all adds up to a balanced scoring attack that makes it difficult for the Buckeyes to plan for. As far as the Big Ten goes, though, Matta said that is just par for the course.
"I think most teams we're going to play from here on in are going to have capable scorers and a lot of them," he said. "The better the team, the more they have. It's one of those deals where we have to have great awareness at all times of where everybody is. They are a team that has the potential to put four guys on the floor (who can score), which has kind of become a standard for us."
Freshman guard Jon Diebler said the team at least somewhat knows what to expect from the sold-out crowd expected on hand at Mackey Arena thanks to the team's road game against Illinois that began conference play for the Buckeyes. However, he acknowledged that things are only going to get more difficult for them from here on out.
"It's exciting," he said. "The conference play, it's kind of different from the non-conference games. The crowds are crazy. That's exciting. That's why people play college basketball, to go to these places and to play against – we played against Illinois and the arena was pretty nuts. Just that feeling and playing on that stage, it gets you going."
The challenge now for the Buckeyes is to keep the ball rolling as they head into the coming week. A win against Purdue would give them momentum heading into Tuesday night's nationally televised showdown with the Spartans.
It's likely a good sign then that Diebler said practices have been improving as the Buckeyes prepare for the Boilermakers, then.
"I think as a team we're playing extremely well right now," he said. "Obviously we're not where we want to be and there's little areas we need to correct, but our confidence is growing each day. I think that goes in practice too."
It will help that senior guard Jamar Butler is fully recovered from a flu-like virus he had that affected his performance during OSU's 62-51 victory against Northwestern. In that game, Butler was scoreless from the field but still recorded a double-double with 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
That performance marked the first time in OSU history that a player recorded a double-double without scoring 10 points or more.
The stretch of difficult opponents will not be the first one the Buckeyes have endured this season, however. During one 10-day stretch in late November/early December, OSU played four teams ranked in the top 25 and came away with just one victory.
The hope is that stretch of games will help prepare the Buckeyes for the one they are about to undertake.
"The challenge is obviously in front of us," Matta said. "You hope that those games somewhat prepare you."