After being announced as one of the participating teams in the 2K Sports Classic benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer, the Buckeyes learned they would be playing one of the first games in the entire nation. The veteran OSU roster would be facing off against NBA legend Isiah Thomas, who would be making his collegiate coaching debut as the head man for Florida International.
When the first ball was thrown in the air at center court in Value City Arena, junior Buckeye center Dallas Lauderdale would be one of the two players leaping skyward after the opening whistle.
Instead, it will be senior Kyle Madsen jumping against the starting center for visiting Alcorn State.
A little reorganizing resulted in a higher-profile opponent for Thomas' charges, as FIU will tip off against No. 4 North Carolina in a nationally televised game on ESPNU. Now with his attention focused on the Braves, OSU head coach Thad Matta said he has no real idea how his team ended up with the season-opening opponent it will face tonight at 7 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
"I honestly had no idea what was going on," the coach said. "We had no say so. I think I was on the road recruiting and (getting) e-mails. I never spoke with anybody about it. We just knew we were playing on the 9th."
As for the absence of Lauderdale, it is at least a situation Matta has been able to prepare for since he suffered a broken finger during the week leading up to the start of camp. Although the 6-8, 260-pound center resumed practice last week after having a final X-ray, the coach said he is looking at Thursday as the date when Lauderdale can make his season debut.
"He went today," Matta said Nov. 6. "His hand obviously isn't where it needs to be but his conditioning was good. He looked pretty hungry out there to get into it."
A smartly dressed Lauderdale was on the bench when OSU unofficially got the 2009-10 season underway Nov. 4 with an 86-48 victory against Walsh. He saw Madsen and sophomore Zisis Sarikopoulos man the paint and collect nine personal fouls to go along with 12 points and five rebounds.
Although Madsen got the start, Sarikopoulos' 21 minutes of playing time were five more than what the senior saw as he was saddled with foul trouble. Owing to his experience, however, Matta said he figures to go with Madsen for the opening tip against the Braves.
Going forward, however, Matta said it is fair to expect to see the 7-0, 265-pound Sarikopoulos in action for around 20 minutes a game.
"I think time will tell," the coach said. "I think match-ups will have a little bit to do with it. His motor is pretty good. I like the way he moves. I thought he did a good job on defense the other night blocking shots."
Against the Cavaliers, Sarikopoulos was credited with one block but recorded at least two more that were not on the stat sheet.
The Braves' roster has four players that top out at 6-8, but three of them are freshman and listed as power forwards. Junior JaMarkus Holt is listed as the lone center on the roster.
Matta said the coaches have acquired a practice tape of Alcorn State that has given the Buckeyes a feel for what their season-opening opponent will bring to the table. The Braves feature eight freshmen, Matta said, and mix things up defensively by playing both zone and man-to-man defense.
Regardless of what the Braves bring to the court, junior forward David Lighty said the Buckeyes are ready to just get on the court.
"It counts now so there's no holding back anymore," he said. "You've got to be on you're a game. Everything you worked on in the offseason ... you've just got to go out there and play hard."
The same goes for his head coach, even if it is not exactly the situation he imagined during the summer.
"As we termed it, it's playing with real bullets," Matta said. "I think that for those guys, all the work they put in in the offseason, the practices, to have the opportunity to go out and know that at the conclusion of the game you're going to be 0-1 or 1-0 heightens their awareness a little bit.
"Think of the magnitude of college basketball as it plays out throughout the course of a season. For the Ohio State University to kick off college basketball this year, I'm very excited."