Roller Coaster Ride

It's been a season of good moments, and some not-so-good moments for Thad Matta and his 2007-08 Ohio State men's basketball team. Sunday before a "white out" crowd, he hopes it's a moment to remember. The Buckeyes host second-place Indiana on national television, hoping to kick-start the season. Kyle Lamb has more.

As if Tuesday evening wasn't worrisome enough for Thad Matta, his Buckeyes have the national spotlight on them Sunday. If that weren't enough, it's against 19-3 Indiana.

Ohio State (16-7, 7-3 Big Ten) toted a dangerous line earlier this week against rival Michigan. The pesky Wolverines, now 5-17 on the season, led for much of the game before Ohio State used a late surge in the game's final four minutes to earn the victory.

Every win at this point in the season counts, for certain, but the lack of style points pinpoint one very large weakness as Indiana rolls into town Sunday afternoon in front of a sold out "white out" crowd: inexperience.

The youth of Ohio State has been caused by the sudden departures of Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook to the NBA after just one collegiate season. Though Oden's loss was not unexpected, most people surmised Conley and Cook would stick around at least another season.

The Buckeyes did manage two consecutive Big Ten titles with (and before) the talented group. And last season, a magical 35-4 journey all the way to the National Championship game.

That's why this year Matta and his crew have to be Johnny-on-the-spot.

"Our guys have to understand that we're going to get everybody's best shot," Matta said in Tuesday's postgame press conference. "That's what happens when you win the Big Ten two years in a row."


It's excruciatingly obvious Ohio State must sink or swim with the roster it has. That's not necessarily a bad thing behind senior point guard Jamar Butler, who has quietly far surpassed his terrific sophomore season in terms of production. However, with inconsistent freshmen Jon Diebler, Kosta Koufos and sometimes Evan Turner learning the ropes on a nightly basis, the Buckeyes will not be challenging for a third-straight Big Ten Championship.


At least this year, they won't.


But Sunday's opponent, Indiana, is just a half game behind conference co-leaders Purdue and Wisconsin, and Ohio State can make a splash with a high-profile home victory. It won't likely get them back in the conference championship race, but it sure would help the team's resume (and psyche) come March.


In hopes of that happening, Butler has challenged his younger teammates to step up their performance and meet his expectations. The senior knows he's heading down the home stretch of his career, and would like nothing more than to shine again in March.


"Coach Matta and Jamar have both challenged us since Iowa about stepping up and making plays," Diebler said after Tuesday's 65-55 win against Michigan, "and after that our team stepped up and really came together."


Though the team may still not be brimming with confidence, perhaps the rallying cry might be the spark the team needs. It's still, for all intents and purposes, a fragile team with a brittle ego. Another heart-breaking loss or two might send the bunch into a downward spiral.


On the contrary, a stunning win might just propel a pretty talented group into a hot steak, similar to the ones seen by Matta's teams in years past and prepare the Buckeyes for a deep NCAA Tournament run.


Whichever extreme (or something in between) happens, Sunday might be the first litmus test as to how it all goes down.


Tuesday was a near-miss. You might say they were mere seconds from disaster. But two days from now, it might be a completely different story.


And that's been the story of this team all year.


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