The Ohio State men’s basketball team welcomes Morgan State to the Schottenstein Center Saturday as it begins the pursuit of yet another deep NCAA Tournament run.
OSU coach Thad Matta welcomes back eight players from last season’s team that lost to Wichita State, 70-66, in the Elite Eight. Notable returners are senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., junior forwards LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson and junior guard Shannon Scott. With that many players holding extensive game experience, Scott said “the sky’s the limit” for OSU this season.
“I believe the sky’s the limit for us really,” Scott said. “We believe we can be a national champion, a Big Ten champion but we know we have other things we have to work on. We can’t come in on days and not play our best. We gotta be ready with our ‘A’ game or we’re going to lose.”
Thompson agreed with Scott, adding that the team is looking to build off the success from last year.
“We have a veteran basketball team, a team that’s been here, a team that knows how to win and a team that’s won,” Thompson said. “We’re just excited to get after it against real opponents now in the games that count and really look to build on what we started last year.”
Matta said the team is much farther ahead than it usually is at this point in the season — especially on defense.
“I think that we got our core principles down sooner maybe than we have in the past,” Matta said Friday. “I think it’s allowed us to be hopefully a little more defensively. I want us to be as aggressive as we possibly can.”
The Buckeyes finished 27th in the nation in scoring defense last year, only giving up 59.4 points per game. That comes from a cohesiveness on the defensive side of the ball, Matta said, which starts on the perimeter.
“I think we’ve got four of what I consider the best defenders in the country with Aaron (Craft), Shannon (Scott), Lenzelle (Smith) and Sam Thompson,” Matta said. “Those guys, you see them taking more chances, being just a little bit more aggressive. Which I love to see.”
Matta said the starting lineup “could change periodically” this season.
“So much of it is just the role definition of what we need guys to do and what they’re capable of doing,” Matta said. “I think we’ve got great depth.”
Regardless of who starts, the goal always remains the same.
“Nobody in that locker room cares about who gets called out for starting lineups,” Thompson said. “At the end of the day we all want to win, and we all want to do what’s best for the program. Whoever gets called to start the game, gets called to start the game.”
Morgan State returns a lot of veteran players from a team that went 17-15 last season, and 10-6 in the MEAC. The Bears have four seniors and two juniors, all who played significant time last season.
“They have a lot of size and go rebound the ball well,” Thompson said. “We know that they’re a good basketball team coming in, and we have our work cut out for us.”
It’s not a secret that the team is ready to get the season started in pursuit of Matta’s sixth Big Ten title in what will be his 10th season at the helm.
“I like the energy, I like the fire we’ve had,” Matta said. “We’ve been competing and we’ll continue to compete … but all the work they’ve done up to this point, now it’s time to go and go against somebody for real.”
Tip off against the Bears is scheduled for noon Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.