Jeff Barnett / Lantern photographer
The Ohio State men’s basketball team has managed to remain unbeaten through its first 24 games this season. But maintaining an unblemished record through their remaining seven games might prove to be a more difficult task for the Buckeyes.
OSU picked up a road win at Minnesota — a place where no current Buckeye, except fifth-year senior forward David Lighty, had won in his career — on Sunday. Now the team will travel to a place where no Buckeye, including Lighty, has won: Madison, Wis.
Following their matchup with No. 13-ranked Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will return to Columbus for their lone matchup of the season with Michigan State. After starting off as the No. 2 team in the nation, the Spartans are in the midst of a disappointing season, having fallen out of both The Associated Press‘ Top 25 and ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ polls. Still, MSU, which appeared in the past two Final Fours, remains a threat to the Buckeyes’ undefeated record.
The Spartans tout an experienced roster, led by the 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas, who leads the team in scoring with 15.8 points per game. MSU also has players with size — 6-foot-7, 230-pound Draymond Green and 6-foot-9, 270-pound Derrick Nix — who could present matchup issues for OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger, named Monday the conference’s Freshman Player of the Week for the 11th time this season.
Michigan coach John Beilein, who has faced both the Spartans and the Buckeyes this season, said he’s been impressed with the Buckeyes, but thinks they’re susceptible to losing a game.
“Anyone can get you anytime. It’s never been easy, but home or away, you are in for a battle,” Beilein said. “Ohio State is really good. There is a reason why they are undefeated.”
After their matchup with the Spartans, the Buckeyes will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to face No. 14 Purdue.
The Buckeyes dominated the Boilermakers, 87-64, during their first matchup this season, Jan. 25 in Columbus. Playing the Boilermakers on the road, however, could yield a different result, as OSU will again face the Big Ten’s leading scorer and shot blocker, Purdue senior forward JaJuan Johnson.
Johnson scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots in Purdue’s first matchup with the Buckeyes.
“JaJuan Johnson, I don’t know if I could say enough about him,” OSU coach Thad Matta said after the Buckeyes’ first game against Purdue. “You watch him make those shots on film and you say, ‘He’ll never do that against us,’ and sure enough, he did.”
With the difficult challenges that lie ahead in OSU’s next three games, Matta is aware that on any given night his team’s winning streak could come to an end.
“These guys are smart enough to know that if we don’t come to play, if we’re not tuned in to what we need to do, we’ll lose,” Matta said. “It’s probably as simple as that.”