Turn the calendar back to the 2004-05 season, and the Buckeye program was reeling from the fallout of the sudden firing of former coach Jim O'Brien and the threat of impending NCAA sanctions. That season was played with a self-imposed ban on postseason play, and players such as Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Tony Stockman and Matt Marinchick spent their senior seasons with no light at the end of the tunnel.
The following year, it was not until one day before OSU opened up Big Ten Tournament play against Penn State that the 2005-06 squad learned it would be eligible for the NCAA Tournament that season.
This year, the Hoosiers are operating under three years worth of probation but no postseason ban for infractions committed under the watch of former head coach Kelvin Sampson. New head coach Tom Crean has had to pick up the pieces of a shattered program, and his roster boasts just two players who saw any action for the Hoosiers one season ago.
OSU head coach Thad Matta said there are some definite similarities between the two, but added that the Hoosiers have at least one advantage on where the Buckeyes were when Matta joined the program in the summer of 2004.
"We didn't know in year two if we were going to have the luxury of going," Matta said in advance of Tuesday night's game between the two (7 p.m., ESPN). "They know where they're starting."
Where they are starting, as Crean pointed out before the season began, is at square one. The head coach said his practices when the team first came together covered the most basic of fundamentals and would often require refresher courses on lessons previously taught.
But in that light, Matta said his Buckeyes and Crean's Hoosiers have something in common.
"They've got guys that are competitors just like we are," Matta said. "They've had different guys that have stepped up at different times. That's the big thing that we're looking at that is similar with our team, getting the consistency across the board. That's something when you're young and new like both teams are we have similar characteristics. In certain games we've played really solid basketball in stretches."
So, too, have the Hoosiers, just not at the same sort of real level as the Buckeyes. Indiana enters the game with a 5-10 record overall and winless in three Big Ten contests.
The Hoosiers have battled at times, however. Against Michigan on Jan. 7, Indiana jumped out to a 39-22 lead before faltering in the second half and eventually losing in overtime. Four days earlier, Indiana outscored Iowa by a point in the second half and lost by five to the Hawkeyes.
The Buckeyes have suffered two road conference losses already and sit 1-2 in the Big Ten while playing inconsistent basketball for large portions of the season. Regardless, Crean said he has been doing six- and seven-on-five drills to help prepare his players for the athleticism OSU will bring to the court.
"I think the first game or two they just had to feel their way and find their way through it," he said. "I know they miss David Lighty, but they are playing extremely well. Their athleticism and length is tremendous. There are not a lot of weaknesses that I've seen."
Indiana might be without leading scorer Devan Dumes, who suffered a severely sprained ankle Jan. 10 against Illinois. He did not practice Jan. 12 and was termed a "game-time decision" by Crean. Matta said OSU is preparing as if Dumes, who is averaging 12.8 points per game this year.
However, freshman guard Nick Williams leads the team in scoring in conference play, averaging 13.3 points in three Big Ten games.
With four of their first six conference games played away from the friendly confines of Value City Arena, the Buckeyes need to defeat the Hoosiers to get back to .500 and give themselves a chance of staying in the hunt.
Sophomore swingman Evan Turner said he does not feel that the rivalry between the two schools is lessened due to Indiana's current state.
"Just being able to wake up and play basketball is a true blessing," Turner said. "Just to be able to play in the Big Ten and play against a school like Indiana with a coach like Coach Crean, it's just an honor. Pulling on the scarlet and gray is an amazing honor."