Relaxed Buckeyes Ready This Time Around

There's no doubting that last year's one-and-done showing in the NCAA Tournament was painful for the Ohio State men's basketball team, but the Buckeyes did appear to learn a few lessons from that experience. Those are helping right now, as a relaxed team thinks it has the right approach going into Friday's opening game.

How relaxed is the Ohio State men's basketball team heading into the 2010 NCAA Tournament?

Before the team left for Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon, players Evan Turner, Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford met with the media. Turner started the session by dropping a March Madness beat into the microphone sitting in front of him to the amusement of teammates and the media.

At the end he exclaimed "March Madness 2010" before trying to calm everyone down.

"Let's get for real," he said afterward, but he wasn't about to escape some ribbing.

"That beat was terrible," Buford replied.

That kicked off a cavalcade of one-liners throughout the day from the Buckeye players and head coach Thad Matta. Among them:

• Turner, about listening to Diebler vomit last night while dealing with the effects of the flu: "I was just like, ‘Keep it down.' It sounded like he was throwing up his lungs."
• Diebler, admittedly feeling better, on that same topic: "It wasn't too exciting."
• Lighty, on the team's second consecutive year of having a 9:30 p.m. Friday night tip: "I'm sure we'll be awake. They saved the best for last."
• Turner, on not trying to duplicate his 37-foot game-winning shot against Michigan in practice: "You just save it for the appropriate time. I don't really want to waste too many of my shots."
• Buford, after Lighty joked about him throwing up because of nervousness before and during games: "I haven't done that in a long time. Don't listen to him."
• Ligthy, when asked to confirm Turner's statement that he's stronger than teammate Dallas Lauderdale: "Oh yeah. Go check the weight room. I got all the records, baby."
• Matta, on whether he rather would have a road to the Final Four easier than one that goes through top overall seed Kansas: "Absolutely. Give me easy. I'm an American man."

So it's obvious the Buckeyes are calm, cool and collected heading into the Friday contest with UC Santa Barbara. What has brought on such an attitude?

Experience, they say. A year after Ohio State returned to the Big Dance following a one-year absence with a first-round loss to Siena, the Buckeyes are exuding an air of been there, done that on the eve of this year's tourney.

"We've been in the NCAA tournament before," Diebler said. "Last year, we'd never been there. We were just kind of in shock like, ‘Yes, we made it.' This year with our confidence, where we're at, how we're playing right now, we feel pretty good."

No one's saying that unfamiliarity was the reason the Buckeyes ended up falling apart in the double-overtime loss to Siena, but it did go hand in hand with one possible cause – the team's youth.

With Lighty injured a season ago, no one in the team's rotation had played in an NCAA Tournament game. Starters Turner, Lauderdale and Diebler boasted sophomore standing, and freshman Buford admitted he was nervous playing in an event he watched on television growing up as a child.

"You just hope that they have more of an appreciation and understanding of what this all entails (this year)," Matta said. "I think a couple of guys last year might have been taken aback by all the media and all the commitments you have going into it."

Along the same vein, this more mature Buckeye group is doing its best not to get too high. That can be tough when Turner graces the cover of Sports Illustrated and gets mentions from President Barack Obama, but Matta has a simple answer to any big heads.

"I always tell them the only person you listen to is me," he said. "I think these guys have shown pretty good maturity through a stretch of a lot of great basketball for two straight months with two losses. I think the focus has been pretty good."

The final litmus test to see if the minds are in the right place will come at game time. Lighty pointed to the 2007 squad, which reached the national title game after starting with a blowout of Central Connecticut State, as one that entered ready to play.

"We'll see how we do this first game," Lighty said. "I think that'll tell how our mind-set really is and our approach to the NCAA Tournament is. That year we came out and played Central Connecticut and we just came in with the mind-set to send a message that we were ready to play."

To get to that point, Turner said the team has a simple mentality.

"Attack and don't lose," he said. "When all you're thinking about is attacking, losing is not an option."


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