Matta Unveils New-Look Buckeyes Tonight Against Walsh
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio —Thad Matta has always wanted his team to run more.
In an ideal world, Ohio State’s ninth-year basketball coach would take 80+ points a night with an up and down style that brings a rocking crowd to its feet at Value City Arena on a nightly basis.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The 45-year old Matta believes he may have precisely that kind of team heading into the 2012-13 season, but that doesn’t mean he has forgotten what got the Buckeyes to three-straight Sweet 16 finishes, and a Final Four appearance last season.
“I’d take effective over exciting any day,” said Matta, who is putting the final preparations on his team’s first and only exhibition game of the season.
The Buckeyes will also play a closed scrimmage in addition to Tuesday night’s exhibition game against Walsh University (7 p.m. ET, BTN.com) before they open the regular season against Marquette University in the Carrier Classic on Nov. 9.
While Matta is excited about the team he has coming back, he isn’t exactly enthusiastic about replacing two-time All-American Jared Sullinger.
“If I could. I’d take him back,” Matta said.
“There is a lot of speed and athleticism (on this team), but there are some tangible pieces that are going to be missing this year. Like I told them before, how many times did he go to the line in the first half with 14 minutes to go shoot a one-and-one because Jared was already fouled five times?”
That was the way Ohio State played last season, and it was wildly successful. The Buckeyes stormed back after a rough stretch in February to tie Michigan State and Michigan for the regular season Big Ten championship with a last-second win over the Spartans in East Lansing.
They came within one win of repeating as Big Ten Tournament champions, and then rattled off victories over Loyola-Maryland, Gonzaga, Cincinnati and Syracuse on their way to a Final Four appearance in New Orleans.
It looked like Ohio State was headed back to the national championship for the second time in Matta’s tenure before the Buckeyes blew a nine-point halftime lead against Kansas in the NCAA semifinal game.
“I still have the game log sheet from last year and I look at it from time to time,” junior guard Lenzelle Smith said.
“I read the script to see what could have happened, what could have gone differently, what we should have done and what I could have done differently. It leaves a salty taste in your mouth, but there can only be one winner. Every other team walked away with a pretty same feeling of next year we have to do better.”
Smith said a number of OSU players kissed the court at Value City Arena after everything this team went through a year ago. He wasn’t one of them, however, because he knew he would be back for another chance.
“It's a brand new team, a different feel. Of course we're going to miss guys,” Smith said Monday.
“It's our job to continue to continue carrying the torch, keep the tradition going and win in this building.”
Along with Sullinger, the Buckeyes also lost senior William Buford and reserves Jordan Sibert and J.D. Weatherspoon, both of whom opted to transfer in the offseason. They return preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas, who passed on a chance to turn pro after his impressive performance in the tournament, along with point guard Aaron Craft, the reigning defensive player of the year in the Big Ten.
Matta also returns a sophomore class that is loaded with potential, including the high-flying Sam Thompson, speedy point guard Shannon Scott, a shot-blocking big man in Amir Williams and another big who can run the floor in Trey McDonald.
Oh, and some guy named LaQuinton Ross.
“I think we’ve got more depth,” Matta said Monday.
“In terms of mix and matching different guys, I'd would say six or seven different lineups. Will we have the ability to see them all tomorrow? I don't know that.”
The Buckeyes also added a newcomer to the mix in freshman Amedeo Della Valle. Smith compared the Italian native, who will wear No. 33 this season, to another rather famous former OSU sharp-shooter.
“I wouldn't say Jon Diebler, but if I was to compare him or spark any interest in who I would guard him like, it would have to be Jon,” said Smith, who played with Diebler as a freshman two years ago.
“Anything wide open, he's going to make it.”
The talent is certainly there for this team to live up to its preseason No. 4 ranking, but Matta said Tuesday night’s exhibition game “probably won’t be the prettiest thing in the world” as the Buckeyes try to find out which combinations work best together.
It will still be a good experience for this team, and a good opportunity for fans to catch a glimpse of what the 2012 Buckeyes might look like without Sullinger down in the paint.
“I just want to better tomorrow than we're going to be in practice today,” Smith said Monday.
“I just want this to team to gel together well. For it to be our first time in a game environment and a game-type experience for some of our younger guys, and I just want them to appreciate that and feel what it's like to be out there.”
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