When Ohio State kicked off its Big Ten schedule with a Dec. 31 road contest against Wisconsin, it did so with the knowledge that it would not get a chance to catch its breath until the calendar flipped over to March.
Now March is here, and the Buckeyes are doing just that. After capturing at least a share of the conference championship with a Tuesday night victory against Illinois, the Buckeyes resume practice today as they prepare for postseason play to begin next Friday.
OSU's lone open week in conference play happens to fall at the end of the season, meaning the team has gone nonstop since Christmas. Now the Buckeyes – who have won 13 of their last 14 games – will go 10 days without playing a game.
In this case, the time off can be a double-edged sword.
"You never know how it's going to go but first and foremost we do need some rest," head coach Thad Matta said after the win against the Fighting Illini. "We're banged up as everybody in college basketball is. Let (athletic trainer Vince O'Brien) do some treatments and try to get guys as healthy as possible."
Every team needs a little rest this time of the season, but that might be multiplied for a team like OSU. With a well-documented rotation not guaranteed to stretch deeper than six players in any given night, four players have pulled down an average of more than 33 minutes per contest.
Matta got a jump on giving his players a breather during the past weekend. After waking up Sunday morning, the coach opted to give his players the afternoon off rather than put them through the paces of preparing for Illinois.
After the game, junior center Dallas Lauderdale – who has averaged a career-high 25.5 minutes of action this season – came the closest of any Buckeye this season to admit that his legs could use some time off the court.
"It will essentially give us some rest," he said. "That's what we need now more than anything is just rest. We don't know who we're going to play in the Big Ten tournament, but whoever it is just rest up and get prepared."
The Buckeyes will not know who they could face March 12 in the conference tournament until the weekend is complete, but Matta said he will not be keeping tabs on how the rest of the league fares in its final conference games.
Asked if he was worried about his team losing momentum, Matta said, "No because I can't change it. I'll find a positive in it somehow. I'll spin it in my mind and hopefully the players will hear it."
Throughout the past few weeks, Matta and his players have talked about simply being focused on the next game rather than the big picture as they have grinded it out through the Big Ten schedule. Then, they had to dig inside to find inspiration to play their best basketball.
Now with the NCAA Tournament less than two weeks away, Matta said he expects no such struggles for his charges.
"I obviously like where we're positioned right now," he said. "You're in one of the best leagues in college basketball and you just earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The way that we're playing is exciting to me. I think we're playing unselfish and we're playing hard.
"Our big thing is continuing to keep them fresh and keep them motivated, which is not hard to do in March."
That starts with today's practice, the first official on-court team activities since Tuesday's game. There has been more on the docket than simply rest for this time period, however.
"I told them after (the game)we're going to take a couple days here and get rested up, but when we come back we've got to go into a training camp mode," Matta said. "We've got some flaws and some deficiencies we've got to try to get corrected. I think the rest will do us well, but we've got a long time until we play again. Keeping timing, keeping conditioning, that sort of thing is huge."