Buckeyes Bringing Youth To Tournament

It is no secret that Ohio State is short on experienced players this season, and that young Buckeye team will face an experienced Wisconsin team Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Read on for more.

There will be no experience gap between Ohio State and Wisconsin when they take the floor Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

It's more like an experience canyon.

Last season, the Badgers defeated Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois en route to their first-ever sweep of both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. That team advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Davidson.

This year, Wisconsin earned the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament and will square off against the Buckeyes, who brought home the No. 5 seed. Last year, OSU went one-and-done in the Big Ten Tournament, dropping a 67-60 decision to the Spartans.

The Buckeyes themselves went on to enjoy some tournament experience by ending the season with a five-game winning streak culminating in a NIT championship, but their experience in the Big Ten Tournament pales in comparison to what the Badgers possess.

This year, the Badgers have 11 players returning who have a combined 25 games' worth of experience in the Big Ten Tournament. On the other side of the coin, this year's OSU roster has five players who played in last year's game. That total includes injured forward David Lighty, who is out for the season and has a total of four Big Ten Tournament games under his belt.

Although overall tournament experience does help, OSU head coach Thad Matta said the fact that his current team has such limited experience in the conference tournament puts it at a disadvantage.

In an effort to prepare the Buckeyes for the grind that is a conference tournament with the possibility of playing three games in as many days, Matta sat his youngsters down before the season began and tried to explain what would be ahead for them.

"As crazy as that sounds, they don't know exactly what's going on – which I'm fine with that," Matta said. "I do think experience is a big key when you go into something like this. Hopefully our guys are seasoned enough now in knowing we've got to go over there and it's going to be rough, tough, physical for 40 minutes, 80 minutes or 120 minutes. You've just got to strap it on and go."

Last year, Matta gave the same sort of speech to his youngsters but waited until February to do so.

"I asked our freshmen what an automatic bid was and none of them knew," he said. "I asked them what the bubble means and they're like, ‘I have no idea.' At-large, they didn't know. At the beginning of the year I did explain to our guys so they would know before the season started."

Playing in the 4-5 game of the tournament also helps both teams. According to Matta, the fact that neither team has already played a game at Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse prevents a possible advantage.

In the 2006 edition of the tournament, the top-seeded Buckeyes trailed No. 8 seed Penn State until the final six minutes of play in a quarterfinal match-up. One day earlier, the Nittany Lions had defeated Northwestern for the right to face OSU.

The Buckeyes and Badgers met once this season, with Wisconsin earning a 55-50 victory at the Kohl Center in Madison. The difference in the game, according to the game story on Wisconsin's official website, was senior leadership.

Senior Marcus Landry led the way with 17 points, while classmate Joe Krabbenhoft added nine points – five of which came in the final two minutes of the game.

The Buckeyes, of course, have no seniors on their roster and primarily rely on sophomores and freshmen. Sophomore guard Jon Diebler knew enough about the tournament to be happy that OSU's win on the final day of the regular season meant the Buckeyes would not have to play on the first day of the tournament.

Instead, OSU will play a maximum of three games in the Big Ten Tournament.

"We knew that," said Diebler, who saw four minutes' worth of action in the tournament last season. "We kept track of other games going on. Coach didn't have to tell us. We'd figure it out on our own. I think it makes a difference having to play four days instead of three."

Matta said he knows he might have to lean on players such as sophomore Evan Turner and Diebler, each of whom finished the regular season having played an identical number of minutes: 1,044, or 36.0 per game.

With numbers like that, Turner said it does not matter what class he is listed as being a member of.

"I feel like a junior," he said. "The tournament is up for grabs."


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