Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The faces, and the arms, of the Ohio State men’s basketball program have changed, but the expectations haven’t.
OSU players and coaches met with media to discuss the team’s tough schedule, the style of play fans can expect in the season to come and even junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s new left-arm tattoo Thursday at the Schottenstein Center.
Strength of schedule
The Buckeyes will travel to Charleston, S.C. for the Carrier Classic where they will play Marquette on Nov. 9 on the deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown, which is now a museum ship. From there, OSU will compete in 19 games against postseason teams from last season, including fellow Big Ten Conference teams. Ten of those teams competed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and an additional four teams played in the 2012 National Invitation Tournament.
The Buckeyes will play a challenging non-conference schedule that features the game against the Golden Eagles, a trip to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium on Nov. 28, and have a chance for revenge at home against the Kansas Jayhawks on Dec. 22.
Kansas beat OSU on Dec. 10, 2011, during the regular season, 78-67, and knocked the Buckeyes out of the NCAA Tournament in a national semifinal game March 31, 64-62, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
OSU’s 31-game regular season schedule also includes home and away conference series with Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin and defending Big Ten regular season co-champion and Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan State.
Senior forward Evan Ravenel said he thinks OSU has one of the better schedules in the country.
“The first team, we’ve got a top 25 team in Marquette that we’ve got to end up playing,” Ravenel said. “It shows you what you can do when you get thrown into the fire … It’s a little bit different when you’re playing against a top-tier team in another conference.”
OSU sophomore center Trey McDonald agreed with Ravenel.
“I think the schedule’s going to be fun. I think the aircraft carrier game is going to be ridiculous,” McDonald said. “It’s just going to be a good time all around.”
OSU has won or shared the Big Ten Conference regular season title in each of the last three seasons, but if the team is to turn the same trick in 2012-13, it will be doing so with a new-look roster.
Former OSU forward Jared Sullinger, who scored 1,282 career points in Scarlet and Gray, opted to forego his junior season and departed OSU for the NBA. Former Buckeyes guard William Buford, who scored 1,990 career points for OSU, also departed the program. Even with Sullinger’s and Buford’s absence and the tough opposition OSU will face in the coming season, Smith Jr. said he doesn’t expect the Buckeyes to lose out on a fourth consecutive regular-season conference title.
“This program is a winning program, so our fans and everyone in Buckeye Nation are used to winning,” Smith Jr. said. “We want guys to feel that pressure … we need to make sure we get it done.”
Junior forward Deshaun Thomas, picked by Blue Ribbon and Sporting News as a preseason all-American, called his decision to forego entering the NBA Draft to return for his junior season at OSU “close.” Thomas figured to be a focal point of the Buckeyes’ offense this season, and said he expects to be double teamed by opponents throughout the upcoming campaign.
“This team is something special. We’ve got a lot of tools,” Thomas said. “You’re going to see me outside coming off screens more. I’m going to do what I can do to help my team win.”
OSU coach Thad Matta agreed, saying there is plenty of athleticism on the team this season.
“I want them to play athletic. I want them to use what they’ve got there,” Matta said.
Matta on social media
When it comes to social media, Matta appears to take an indifferent stance – he said he knows it’s part of the experience for student-athletes but emphasized the importance of taking care of business on the court.
Matta said that you can’t stop players from engaging in social media, adding, “You must play the game. You can’t write the game. You can’t tweet the game. You have to play the game.”
Smith Jr. is sporting a new tattoo on his left arm, which was administered Wednesday.
A Block-O is featured prominently in the tattoo’s design with a staircase leading up through the “O” to the gates of heaven, which symbolizes the NBA.
“In a basketball sense, my dreams would be to play in the (NBA) and I had to come through Ohio State to get there,” Smith Jr. said of the tattoo. “I like it.”
Smith Jr. and the Buckeyes are scheduled to tip the first of OSU’s two preseason exhibitions on Oct. 30 against Walsh at Value City Arena. Opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.