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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The 2012-13 Ohio State basketball season got off to an unofficial start on Thursday when the Buckeyes held their annual media day. At the helm of the OSU program for his ninth season and fresh off of his second Final Four appearance, Thad Matta and several of his players met with members of the press to provide their takes on the upcoming season and its several storylines
Big Ten rising
While the Big Ten may have spent the past month and a half taking its lumps on a football front, it's a safe bet that the conference will be receiving nothing but praise in the coming months, due to the strength of its basketball programs. Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan could all open up as top five nationally-ranked teams, which is something that has already caught the attention of some Buckeyes' players.
"That's one of those things that you notice really quickly. My freshman year, there was no teams that you could take lightly and it carried over to las year too," junior guard Aaron Craft said. "I love that. That's why you come and play college basketball, to play against the best."
Given Ohio State's recent success in terms of Final Four appearances, conference titles, and putting players in the NBA, junior forward Deshaun Thomas feels that the Big Ten deserves some of the credit for helping turn OSU into what he called an "elite" program.
"I think this school should get enough pub, like the North Carolinas and Kansas'," Thomas said. "They say the Big Ten is one of the best conferences, we've been the best conference, and we've put Ohio State on the map coming out of the Big Ten as an elite team."
Under the radar
Last season, the Buckeyes' were answering questions about their new role as the campus' fan favorites and the struggles of their football counterparts. Funny how quickly things change.
With the OSU football team at 6-0 under the direction of first-year football coach Urban Meyer, Buckeyes basketball is back under the radar, and that's perfect okay with Craft, a player who's used to enjoying the underdog role.
"I have no problem with that. The past two years, whether we've deserved it or not, we've been picked to win and be successful," Craft said. "Kind of all my life, I've played that underdog role. It's a good place to be."
Sophomore forward Sam Thompson echoed the sentiments of Craft, stating that he was just fine with the Buckeyes starting the season unnoticed.
"A little bit. And that's just how we like it," Thompson said when asked if he thought the Buckeyes were flying under the radar. "We don't pay attention to the press clippings or anything like that. We just want to get in the gym and work hard and when the ball goes up for opening tip, win some games."
With the graduation of William Buford and Jared Sullinger now a member of the Boston Celtics, the Buckeyes will spend this season attempting to replace the 32 points per game that the duo averaged a season ago. Without the presence of the two-time All-American forward in Sullinger, the Buckeyes will rely on a trio of big men in Evan Ravenel, Amir Williams, and Trey McDonald to attempt to man the middle.
"(Matta) wants me to be a better offensive player than I was last year," Williams said. "I just have to continue to work really. Just have confidence in my abilities.
On the perimeter, sophomore LaQuinton Ross is carrying high expectations to live up the hype that he's carried since he arrived in Columbus less than a year ago, and could be a player who is counted on to shoulder the load left by Buford.
"To me, I'm just doing what I gotta do getting out here for my team," Ross said. "I'm not really looking at the preseason rankings or where they got me ranked. I'm just out here doing what I do."
Circle of trust
Despite finishing the season in New Orleans at the Final Four, it's no secret that the Buckeyes went through a bit of a rough patch last February, losing three games in a five-game stretch at the end of the month. Matta felt that at that point, his team let outside factors influence them, which has led to a new motto for the Buckeyes heading into the upcoming season.
"The very first day we got back from Summer break, Coach Matta had a meeting, and what he said was, 'Keep it in the O.' He had a block 'O' diagramed and he had some words around the block 'O." Thompson explained. "Just stay within ourselves, stay within the team, and we can make it happen."
Unlike last year's Buckeyes, Matta doesn't think that this year's team can afford the luxury of getting outside the 'O' as last year's team did.
"This team has to be in the 'O'. If somebody gets outside, we're done," Matta said. "The outside influences, if they're able to pull you out, we're done."
Starting off with a bang
While the Buckeyes will hold their first official practice of the season tomorrow, it won't be until Nov. 9 when they play in their first game- a primetime tip-off against Maquette. The season opener will feature a bit of a twist, as the game will be played on the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier in Charleston, S.C.
"I am stoked for that game," junior guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. said. "It's up to us go out there and keep the tradition going and keep the winning going that we want to have."
The circumstances of the game seem ideal for a player like Thomas, the Buckeyes' returning leading scorer and rebounder, who is excited for the chance to start off the season with a bang and all eyes on him- even if it means overcoming a fear of his.
"I've never played on water before. That's kind of scary," Thomas said. "It's one of those games where you get hyped and have fun."
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