The college basketball season is a grind.
Teams play 30 or so games during the regular season from November until early March, but once tournament time comes around that intensity grows dramatically.
For the Ohio State men’s basketball team (23-8, 10-8) to achieve its goals in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, it will have to play in four games in four consecutive days.
Junior forward Sam Thompson said Wednesday that although winning the championship could be tough, the team is ready for the challenge.
“We’ve all packed to play through Sunday, and we all expect to play four games in four days so that’s what we’re going down to do,” Thompson said.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to play in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday against Purdue (15-16, 5-13), a team they have beaten twice already this year. If OSU can get past the Boilermakers they will face Nebraska in the second round Friday.
Each of the last five seasons OSU has played three games in three days, at least making it to the Tournament final in each of those seasons, but this year the team doesn’t have a first round bye that will allow for one less game.
Senior guard Aaron Craft said the lack of a first round bye is something the players on the team have never experienced, but that they will just continue to play how they have all season.
“Hopefully we can play a few games,” Craft said. “Obviously we’re in a new situation we haven’t been in since I’ve been here … It’s just another opportunity to play basketball and I hope we take the opportunity and make the most of it.”
Thompson said at the end of the three day run of games players were tired, but that he has no doubt that the team will step up if given the opportunity to play on Sunday.
“It’s been a little difficult,” Thompson said. “I remember last year when we played Wisconsin some guys legs were pretty heavy, there was a lot of fatigue going on. … We have the players that can do it, we’re tough enough to do it, if we’re fortunate enough to play four games in four days we will bring our best basketball then.”
Craft said getting to the tournament final itself will be the motivating factor to help OSU plays its best basketball, even on tired legs.
“If we’re fortunate enough to make it that far, the adrenaline and excitement of making it that far would overcome being tired or anything like that,” Craft said. “It’s at a point where you’ve just got to suck it up and get the job done and that’s what it’s going to be like if we are able to win tomorrow and able to win on Friday. We’ve just got to keep going and put yourself behind the team goal.’
A big factor in tournament play is the one-and-done aspect of play, where one bad game can result in the end of a season or a career for certain players. Craft said the raised stakes raises the pressure on the players.
“There’s no more second chances,’ Craft said. “If you go out and play lackadaisical you’re going to go home and no one likes to go home, there’s still basketball to be played.”
Coach Thad Matta said the preparation for games doesn’t change, even with the increased pressure.
“In terms of preparation, in terms of pregame speeches, in terms of what we eat it’s kind of always the same,” Matta said.
The Buckeyes swept Purdue this season, winning 78-69 Dec. 31 and 67-49 Feb. 8. Thompson said the familiarity with a team like Purdue means the battle will come down to execution.
“Well anytime we play Purdue we know it’s going to be a battle. They’re one of the toughest playing teams in the Big Ten,” Thompson said. “They’re going to rebound, they’re going to play in transition, they’re going to play hard so we know that we have to bring our best basketball, we know that it’s not going to be a walk in the park. Despite their record we know that we’re in for a 40 minute basketball game. We have to execute, we have to come out and play our best basketball. This is the third time we’ve played them, there’s going to be no surprises, they know what we want to do, we know what they want to do so it’s about executing.”
Matta said records no longer matter because any team can beat any team.
“It’s a new season for everybody right now in terms of this tournament. We have seen them (Purdue) over the last couple of weeks play some unbelievable basketball,” Matta said. “They’re a team that we know what they’re going to do defensively, we’ve got a real good feel for them offensively … They’re going to pressure you and do all of those things but we can’t give up easy baskets in transition. We got down here early because we weren’t as ready as we needed to be.”
The first round game is set to tipoff at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, 25 minutes after the finish between Indiana and Illinois.
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