OSU Prepping To Take Off

The Ohio State men's basketball season gets off a bit earlier than normal this year as the Buckeyes prepare to head to Canada for a three-game exhibition swing. Take a look at the benefits of this trip as well as what head coach Thad Matta hopes his players improve at in this report.

Normally at this time of the year, Ohio State would be preparing for the season by competing in open gyms and going through individual workouts.

Today, the Buckeyes are three days from taking a trip to the Great White North to play three exhibition games in Canada. By NCAA rule, exhibition trips like this one are accompanied by a 10-day period in which the traveling team is permitted to hold team practices.

There is one catch, however: incoming freshmen are not allowed to take part. In other words, it is a perfect situation for an OSU team that returns all but one player from last year's roster and will not add any freshmen for the 2009-10 season.

"We talked about this a couple years ago and circled this year as a good time because it's hard when you can't take your incoming freshmen with you," Matta said. "Since we have none coming in this year, we felt this would be the best opportunity to do it."

OSU will face the University of Windsor on August 28 and 29 at 6 p.m. and will finish things off with a contest against Western Ontario University on August 31st. If you are not familiar with the level of competition in America's neighbor to the north, you have something in common with Matta.

"A couple coaches I talked to that have done this trip that the competition has been pretty good, but I don't know size, quickness, speed," Matta said. "I'm not sure (about them), which I kind of like. In a couple ways it's kind of like playing the exhibition games, going in and you're not prepared and you have to adjust on the fly. You really have to think at those moments."

But while the games will be important, the time spent getting ready for the season likely trumps them. The Buckeyes will tip off the season Nov. 9 against Florida International, meaning OSU will have to hit the ground running when practice kicks off for the rest of the country in October.

These practices will have a different feel than the ones OSU will go through when the regular season gets underway.

"I'm not going to ask to be in January mode or anything like that," Matta said. "I don't know that we're in game-season shape right now. (We'll) try to keep the practices at a maximum of maybe an hour and a half and not trying to win the war today, just let's get ready to prepare for battles."

Even before this set of practices kicked off, junior guard Jon Diebler said things have felt different with this group of players.

"The good thing about having everyone back is practices at the beginning of the season seem so long because you have new stuff that you have to go over," he said. "This year it seems like it's just like review. We can hit it a couple times and it just comes back to you."

In addition, Matta said the film from these exhibition games will give him a better feel on what little things the Buckeyes need to work on. Plus, it will allow him to tinker with his lineup a little bit and perhaps do things he would not have the luxury of trying while playing at Value City Arena.

One of the things he figures to be looking at is the team's point guard situation. Junior college transfer Jeremie Simmons struggled in his first season at the Division I level last year, and another JUCO player in P.J. Hill emerged down the stretch as an aggressive if occasionally raw option. Add into that the fact that leading scorer and rebounder Evan Turner was tasked with running the point and you have an unsettled point guard situation.

Matta said they will be looking at all three as potential options there, adding that Simmons could see some time off the ball this season.

A key for this team's success will be its bench. Matta said he does not want to have to rely on players like Diebler to average 36.7 minutes of action per game. The addition of veteran David Lighty and a fully healthy Walter Offutt should help along those lines.

"Walter's been playing extremely well; Jeremie can play off the ball," Diebler said. "I think just having a whole bunch of guys who can play and how deep we are will help save them for the end of the year. Your body will eventually get tired and start to wear down. That's just how it is."

After manning a zone almost exclusively during the past two seasons, Matta said he would like to see his team finally master the concepts of playing a man-to-man defense this season.

To hear the coach tell it, such preparations are already underway.

"I hope to get our man to man back in check, but I do think the zone stuff that we've done the last couple years has been pretty effective for us so maybe mixing it up a little bit but I do think we have to get back to our man to man," Matta said. "I think these guys are now capable. We played it every day in practice last year. Now we've just got to expand it."

In that case, those Canadians won't know what hit them.

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