Buckeyes Head South For Challenge

Ohio State has already taken on one Miami team this season as part of a closed scrimmage. Now the stakes are higher as the Buckeyes take on Miami (Fla.) as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with their eyes on perhaps climbing into the top 25 with a victory.

Seeking to get his young team a taste of life away from Value City Arena, Thad Matta scheduled a closed scrimmage against Miami (Ohio) to kick off the 2008-09 season. The first opportunity for the Ohio State men's basketball team to show what it learned will be Tuesday night, but the team's head coach said there is one key difference between the pre-season scrimmage and this contest.

"It was a different Miami," Matta said with a laugh.

As part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Buckeyes will square off with the Florida-based Miami team, also known as the Hurricanes. The game will be the first real test of the season for an unranked OSU team looking to find a way back into the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season.

Matta said his team is focused on doing things right in its first road game of the season, but the head coach said he wishes there was more concern about matters on the court than off of it.

"I'm driving home (Sunday) night and one of the new guys calls me twice and wants to know how we dress when we travel and I'm like, ‘Can you ask me about setting a screen or defending a certain action?' " Matta said. "He wants to know, ‘Now, exactly, are khaki pants OK on the plane?' I think it kind of says the battles that we're still learning.

"What are we teaching? We're teaching how to dress and we're teaching how to play on the road."

For the record, khakis are acceptable.

Coming out flat and not ready to play will not be, however. This game marks a two-game stretch where the Buckeyes play consecutive ranked teams away from home. After facing the No. 23/22 Hurricanes (7 p.m., ESPN), OSU will take on No. 7 Notre Dame on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

For the Buckeyes, who are on the cusp of being ranked, coming out ready to play will be crucial should they want to climb into the nation's top 25.

"I think it's a real big game for us as long as we stay focused and come out ready to play," junior forward David Lighty said. "It's going to hopefully put us in that top-25 range that we haven't been in since last year. We've just got to come out, execute and play our game."

Doing so will not be easy. The Hurricanes are expected to start two seniors, one redshirt junior and two true juniors. OSU does not have a senior on its roster. Matta said Miami plays with three guards at all times and has four big men it can rotate in down low similar to OSU's Dallas Lauderdale.

That will mean Lighty will get the duty of matching up with at least one true power forward for much of the game. His task is to turn that into an advantage for his team.

"They have four big men that they rotate in and out, so we've got to use that to our advantage on the offensive end," he said. "If I'm at the 4 and have a bigger, slower guy checking me then I have to be as aggressive as I can on offense."

The Buckeyes have won just one of their six contests in the annual showdown between the two conferences. The last two years have seen them match up with North Carolina – both losses – and the one win came three seasons ago at home at the expense of Virginia Tech.

But while OSU struggled away from home last season to the tune of a 4-8 road record, sophomore Evan Turner said his teammates have learned what it takes to be successful away from home.

"My first year I was thinking, ‘Save us, Jamar (Butler),' " Turner said, referring to last year's senior captain. "That was all I was really thinking. Jamar would take over. Right now I'm a year older, a year wiser. My teammates and I have seen a lot of stuff. We know it's our particular spot to lead when our team needs help like our seniors did last year. It's all about winning. You have to do what you need to do to win and be a tougher team."

Turner and his teammates have pointed to the fact that the Buckeyes withstood a second-half surge by Bowling Green in the second game of the season and still came away with a win as a sign that this year's team is tougher than last year's squad.

Now they will have to use that toughness to defeat a Miami team that has historically proven to be tough to beat at home. The Hurricanes have won 28 of their last 30 home games against unranked foes and 16 of their last 18 games at home overall.

Further, ACC teams are 33-4 at home during the annual challenge. Clearly, this will be tougher test than Delaware State, BGSU or Samford has presented this season – and Turner said his teammates are aware of that fact.

"Just watching film, I'm pretty sure our young guys are wise enough to know that this is a different-caliber team," Turner said. "Their skill level is a little bit higher and we're going to have to bring our lunch pail. We're going to approach the game the same way as far as making sure our defense is good and running our offense. We have to rebound and play together. I think we'll be fine."

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