January 3, 2013

Buckeyes talk tough Big Ten slate

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With its 70-44 win over Nebraska last night, the eighth-ranked Ohio State men's basketball team (11-2, 1-0) finally picked up a win over a BCS conference opponent this season. But the Big Ten fun for the Buckeyes, is just beginning.

Entering league play in a conference that features six nationally ranked teams- and five in the top 11- OSU certainly has its work cut out for itself for the remainder of the Big Ten season. And while their win over the Cornhuskers came handily, Wednesday night may have been the Buckeyes' last chance to catch their collective breath.

Starting on Saturday, Ohio State will begin a four-game stretch of quality opponents that not many teams in the country would envy.

It starts with a trip to Champagne, Ill. and a matchup with No. 11 Illinois. And although the Illini will be coming off of a Wednesday night loss, the team that beat them, Purdue,will be next up on the Buckeyes' schedule.

Following its trip to West Lafayette, Ind. on Tuesday, Ohio State will then gear up for a Sunday battle with Michigan, the country's second-ranked team. The Buckeyes' quartet of quality opponents won't come to an end until after Jan. 19, when they travel to East Lansing, Mich. for a tipoff with the defending Big Ten Tournament champion, No. 18 Michigan State.

"Every game is gonna be tough in the Big Ten. It's physical. Every team has a key player. It's a tough league," OSU forward Deshaun Thomas said. "We just gotta be ready and have our game right."

But regardless of the record or ranking of each OSU opponent, guard Aaron Craft said that a win's a win in the Big Ten and that the recipe for success in conference play doesn't change much on a game-to-game basis.

"Getting into the Big Ten and being able to get a win and be 1-0 is huge," Craft said following the Buckeyes' win over the Huskers. "The Big Ten's very physical and you kind of come into the game and you kind of want to throw the first punch."

Having been a part of two teams that have won shares of regular season conference titles, and playing for a coach who has won three-in-a-row and five-in-seven years, Craft knows a thing or two about winning in the Big Ten. The junior guard said that a fourth-consecutive conference crown could go a long way towards avenging disappointing losses to Duke and Kansas this season.

"We've played some great teams in non-conference but when it comes down to it, you want to play in league play," Craft said. "Every team is great, every team has a chance to win the game."

Even after their upcoming four-game stretch, two dates with Indiana, a game against No. 9 Minnesota, and rematches with the Wolverines, Spartans, and Illini loom on OSU's schedule. And according to Craft, those call-back dates may be as tough as they come in league play, which is saying something.

"You get into Big Ten play and there are no secrets," the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year said. "Every team can go off and you can be knocked off. You have to have the right mindset, attitude every game."


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