February 4, 2013

Three-point play: Michigan

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Three days removed from its 63-56 win at Nebraska, the No. 10 Ohio State men's basketball team (17-4, 7-2) will hit the road again on Tuesday for a 9 p.m. tipoff with No. 3 Michigan (20-2, 7-2). On Monday, Thad Matta and members of his team met with the media to preview their upcoming matchup with the Wolverines and to talk about the latest happenings in Buckeye basketball.

Big week ahead

Facing the third-ranked team in country is enough for one team to handle for any given week, but couple that with the fact that a date with No. 1 Indiana (20-2, 8-1) looms on Sunday, and it makes for an even bigger week for the Buckeyes. While both contests could go a long way towards determining OSU's fate in the Big Ten championship race, Matta said that all of his squad's focus thus far has been placed on Michigan.

"To be honest, we haven't even talked about Sunday's game. Obviously the mindset is on tomorrow night's game and knowing that they have a great team and our guy's know in terms of already playing them once that it's going to be a great challenge for us," Matta said. "Our guys have a pretty good understanding of what we have to do in terms of the magnitude of the game."

Matta's one game at a time message seems to have been received by his players, including point guard Aaron Craft, who is excited by what he's seen from his team in the day's leading up to Tuesday's matchup.

"There's no way that we can even try to look past this game in any way," Craft said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere. I like the way we've practiced the past couple of days and hopefully we can go in and be calm and execute tomorrow and see what happens."

Meeting Michigan

On Monday, Matta admitted that the worst he saw last year's OSU squad play was in Ann Arbor, where the Buckeyes suffered a 56-51 defeat on Feb. 18. Despite the outcome of his team's last trip to the Crisler Arena, OSU forward Deshaun Thomas is excited to return what was the home of his 25-point, 13-rebound performance.

"It's a great atmosphere to shoot," Thomas said. "Last year, even though we lost down there, it was my first double-double. I scored the ball real well, teammates got me open, so the atmosphere's going to be nice and it's going to be good for a scorer like me."

While the Buckeyes have become a defense-first team in nine years under Matta, the OSU coach conceded that his team will likely surrender some easy points to the Wolverines and point guard Trey Burke. That, however, doesn't mean that the Buckeyes won't be able to create some opportunities of their own.

"Michigan is high-powered in transition. You don't want to give them anything easy, but they're probably going to get a couple," Matta said. "That's one of the things that we've talked about- trying to limit the transition buckets. But conversely, if we can go, we'd like to ourselves."

Half the battle

Now nine games through the Big Ten season, the Buckeyes are officially halfway through their conference schedule. Sitting at second place in the league standings and a game back of the Hoosiers, Craft declined to name a number when asked how many wins it would take for the Buckeyes to earn a fourth consecutive conference crown.

"You've always got to play with the bigger picture in mind. I think that helps us play better. It gives every possession and every situation kind of more significance," Craft said. "It's not about getting to a certain number of wins, it's about playing our best basketball and hopefully coming out on top in the end."

Matta seems to be taking the same approach as his players, admitting that he was unsure of who even remained on Ohio State's schedule after Indiana, but that regardless of who it is, he knows that the second half of conference play won't be easy.

"It's more of a take care or what you can take care of and let the chips fall where they may. I don't know who else is playing who," Matta said. "Just looking at college basketball, there's no question that this league's as challenging as it's ever been."


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