The familiar confines of Value City Arena might seem anything but for Ohio State tonight against Indiana.
Now suiting up for their third Big Ten game of the season, the Buckeyes do for the first time at home this season. In a fact that has been a source of concern since the schedule was first released months ago, OSU has been tasked with playing four of its first five games of the year on the road.
Head coach Thad Matta said his team is in rare air when it comes to its schedule this year.
“I told my wife I’m going to take all the coaches in the country who open up conference play with four of their first five on the road and fly them and all them and their families to Hawaii,” Matta said. “She said, ‘Why would you want to go alone?’ ”
Now in his sixth year at OSU, Matta said he once asked the league’s office about his team’s schedule. Their response?
“(We) played the exact same schedule they had sent me,” he said with a laugh.
The lone home game in the stretch could not have come at a better time. The Buckeyes have opened conference play with two consecutive losses for the first time in Matta’s tenure. First was an uninspired loss to Wisconsin on New Year’s Eve, followed by a more competitive defeat suffered at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines that knocked OSU from the ranks of the ranked.
Up next are road games against Minnesota and No. 4 Purdue before the Buckeyes return home for two consecutive games.
“I don’t even care,” Matta said. “It’s the schedule they gave us. We’ve got to play it and away we go.”
OSU is expected to get a boost as well with the return of junior Evan Turner to the lineup, although how much he will play and what he will be able to do will remain a mystery until the opening tip.
The prevailing wisdom within the conference is that a team has to hold serve at home and aim for a split on the road to have a chance for a championship. That makes tonight’s game against the Hoosiers (8:36 p.m., Big Ten Network) all the more important for the Buckeyes.
As junior guard Jon Diebler pointed out, Indiana won on its home floor against the same Michigan team that beat the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor during the weekend.
“That just shows life on the road in the Big Ten is hard,” he said. “That’s why you have to protect your home court, because every time you play on the road it’s going to be difficult.”
What goes around comes around, however. OSU’s front-loaded road schedule is balanced out down the road when the Buckeye will play five of six conference games at home starting Jan. 16 against Wisconsin.
Each of the four teams OSU plays on the road in the early going will also have to make a return engagement to Columbus as well.
“We get them at home too,” Diebler said. “Eventually we’re going to have to play there. There’s nothing we can do about it now, whether it be two in a row or three in a row. We’re going to play them all anyway.”
That’s not the only silver lining the Buckeyes are looking at regarding their schedule.
“The good thing for us is after next Tuesday we’ll be halfway done with our road games,” Matta said.