After a week during which the Ohio State men's basketball team dispatched two top-25 opponents, climbed back into the national rankings and solidified itself as a viable candidate for the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes were rewarded with a full week's worth of rest. Looming on the calendar has been a Valentine's Day road showdown against Wisconsin in the featured game of the week on ESPN (9 p.m.), but the immediate focus has been on two things.
The first has been on making sure the No. 24 Buckeyes continue to improve despite not having a mid-week game to play. The second has been on getting a team that has two key starters averaging more than 34 minutes of action per game some much-needed rest.
Sophomores Evan Turner and Jon Diebler are averaging 35.5 and 34.9 minutes per game, respectively. Diebler has played 39 more minutes in each of the team's last four games, while Turner done the same in the last seven including four games where he has played a full 40 minutes or more.
Since OSU's 64-58 victory against Minnesota on Feb. 7, the Buckeyes have had two days of rest as they have prepared for the Badgers.
"I'm reloaded," said Turner, the two-time reigning Big Ten player of the week. "I'm good. I'm not tired anymore or anything like that."
The last time the Buckeyes had a full week between games was back in December, when a week separated a victory against Notre Dame on a neutral court and a win at home against Butler. At 7-4 in conference play, the Buckeyes now sit third in the Big Ten behind Michigan State and Illinois entering the game against the Badgers.
When in practice this week, the focus has been on trying to get the most improvement out of guys while getting the most out of time spent on the court.
"As we go into this, getting a little bit of rest here and there but by the same token we've got to keep progressing, keep moving forward," head coach Thad Matta said Feb. 9. "We've got to keep an edge about us as we go into it. Just going in and sticking with the formula that we've had in practice is probably the biggest objective."
Now a few days' worth of practice later, Matta said he feels his team has been focused during the week despite not having a game on the immediate horizon.
"We've done a lot of up and down in practice and a lot of competing and scrimmaging in practice this week," he said. "We've stayed basically the same from the standpoint of we took a look at our Minnesota game we've gone over Wisconsin."
However, Diebler said the overall tempo of practice has been at its highest point this week.
"We've come out and we've probably competed this week more than we have all year," he said. "We've really been going at it. I think that's where we've matured because there might have been times earlier in the year where we'd get a day off and we'd relax more. This year we see a golden opportunity to beat a pretty good team on their home court and I think guys are coming into practice really focused."
Turner said the coaches had not extensively shown video of the Badgers as of Friday afternoon, but added that he was sure plenty of film time was right around the corner for the Buckeyes.
Despite all the minutes players such as Diebler and Turner are logging, it is often not the games that are most tiring to the players. Instead, it is the practice that comes after a grueling game that can be most physically demanding.
"That's when the mental toughness comes in and you have to keep practicing hard every day," Diebler said. "That's where Evan and I have grown from last year. We have taken that leadership role, coming into practice and showing everybody else that even if you do play a lot in the games you still have to come out every day and get better."
Has the week of time to recover been beneficial to the Buckeyes? Matta said the answer will not be immediately evident.
"I don't think you'll gauge that until (Saturday) night and Wednesday and really throughout the course of the season," he said. "I think that we've had pretty competitive workouts and we've been able to space the film out a little bit more."