The Biggest Challenge Yet

The road to a NIT championship will not be an easy one, but it would be difficult to find a bigger challenge right off the bat for Ohio State. When the Buckeyes take to the court Tuesday night, Kosta Koufos and his teammates will face UNC Asheville's Kenny George in the paint -- all 7-7, 360 pounds of him.

Throughout the 2007-08 season, a young Ohio State squad has had to take on numerous challenges as it has grown as a team. Now as the Buckeyes prepare to take to the court in the first round of the NIT Tournament on Tuesday night, they will literally face their biggest challenge of the season in UNC Asheville.

The visiting Bulldogs are manned in the middle by junior center Kenny George, who posts a solid line of 12.4 points, a team-leading 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in 19.5 minutes per game.

But George's impact goes well beyond what his numbers are on the stat sheet. The native of Chicago is listed at 7-7 – without shoes on – and 360 pounds. With his size-26 shoes on, George stands 7-9. He can dunk the basketball without leaving his feet.

Factor in his 101 ½-inch wingspan, and it is easy to see why George is the type of player who can make opposing teams think twice about driving the paint against Asheville.

That could be a problem for the Buckeyes, who have recently made their living by attacking the basket from the perimeter.

"He's going to challenge everything inside the paint," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "An eight-footer becomes a 10-footer, a 10-footer becomes a 12-footer. It's that type of mentality."

In that aspect, George is similar to Greg Oden, OSU's starting center one season ago. The 7-0, 270-pound Oden was renowned for affecting shots that came his way and finished the year averaging 3.3 blocks per game.

Unfortunately for this year's Buckeye squad, just four letter-winners return from that team, somewhat negating that impact. This year's team is led in the paint by 7-0 freshman Kosta Koufos, but he has not been the same type of shot-blocking presence.

Through 31 games, Koufos has averaged 1.8 blocks per game. Tuesday night against Asheville, he figures to get the first crack at going against George.

Although he spent the summer playing in the Under-18 European championships for the Greek squad, Koufos said he has not faced anyone taller than 7-4.

"I'm excited for (Tuesday), honestly," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. We don't match up pound for pound, but I feel like we've got a good chance for (Tuesday)."

Regardless of George's size, OSU guard Evan Turner said he plans to go about business as usual when the Buckeyes take the court.

"Obviously it's going to be a mid-range game," he said. "We can't shy away from him. He's just another guy that's bigger than most. We're going to keep playing our game. If the hole is open we're going to go right at him. We can't back down from him because that's not what basketball is about."

George's size can also be a limitation for his team. His stature has helped hold him to less than 20 minutes a game, and he has sat out five games due to either injury or matchup problems. When facing teams that run the ball up and down the court, Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach has sometimes sat George, who physically can not move up and down the court quick enough to keep up.

As a result, he tends to play for about three-minute segments before earning a rest, Matta said.

When he is in the game, Matta said George is the focal point of Asheville's offense. As a result, trying to defend against the lob pass will be a key element for the Buckeyes to have success against the Bulldogs.

"I think that poses such a unique challenge," Matta said.

Although he has not played against him before, Turner has been aware of George for some time. Also a native of Chicago, Turner first saw George when Turner was a freshman in high school.

At the time, George stood 7-3. Fast-forward four years and Turner was seeing George on ESPN the day after the Bulldogs tussled with the North Carolina Tar Heels.

"He's kind of different (now)," Turner said. "I woke up one morning and saw highlights of the North Carolina game and saw Kenny George. I was like, ‘Wow, he got tall.' "

In the past, Matta and his staff have used brooms in practice to block shots and force their players to adjust to shooting over a tall target. This time around, Matta said they would not employ that tactic but suggested a possible different approach instead.

"We're just going to use the roof," he said with a laugh. "You've got to shoot it out of the roof."

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