Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
This would happen, wouldn’t it?
The fate of the Big Ten crown would come down to the 12th round of a season-long bout, wouldn’t it?
In the second-to-last week of the regular season, then-No. 1 Indiana and then-No. 4 Michigan would trip over themselves against unranked opponents, wouldn’t they?
And No. 14 Ohio State – for all its shortcomings and its tribulations – would find itself in the thick of it all.
But OSU coach Thad Matta’s gut told him that, of course, it would.
“I had a pretty good sense it would come down to something like this,” he said at a Monday press conference, calmly.
Considering the Buckeyes’ current situation, that’s probably easy for Matta to say.
Down the stretch of the regular season, the Buckeyes find themselves swelling with momentum as they’ve won three straight games, including a bout with then-No. 4 Michigan State.
Things for OSU, though, haven’t always been so peachy.
Rewind a little more than two weeks ago, OSU found itself in its greatest nadir of a season of ups and downs.
After a 22-point shellacking to Wisconsin in Madison on Feb. 17, talk of a fourth straight Big Ten regular season title seemed silly.
The loss, OSU’s third in four games, perhaps reflected a team whose wheels had come off.
Sixteen days later, that’s no longer the case.
“We’re playing for something we probably didn’t think we’d be playing for a month ago,” said junior guard Aaron Craft, regarding the outside shot OSU has at capturing the Big Ten championship.
So what changed?
Craft said Matta made adjustments to tailor to this particular Buckeye team.
“Each team is different and coach (Matta) does a great job of figuring out how to get people going, what we can and cannot do with practice, what kind of stalls practice, things like that,” he said.
“He adjusts to the team. He still has his same expectations and expects the same things out of us, but he’s willing to go different routes to get the same things out.”
The task to meet those expectations starts Tuesday against No. 2 Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., at 9 p.m.
The Hoosiers, which beat the Buckeyes handily, 81-68, on Feb. 10 at the Schottenstein Center, have already clinched a share of the league’s title.
Assembly Hall shouldn’t make matters easier, especially considering Indiana is 17-1 inside its legendary confines.
“It’s proven over time it’s one of the toughest venues to play in,” Matta said.
Deshaun Thomas said it’s the second-noisiest venue he’s played in.
“It’s one of the loudest places I’ve been at, besides Kansas,” said the junior forward.
But if OSU can overcome that atmosphere and win its fourth straight game, it keeps a chance of a share of a conference title alive.
Thomas said the pressure of such an order isn’t a novel concept.
“We was in the same position last year. We had a three-way tie and we got a chance to do it again. So we gonna try to come in and play hard … Coach Matta gets us ready,” he said. “He always has a great mindset, coach Matta never gives up. We know what we got and we know what he want out of us.”