Ohio State’s highly regarded freshmen class cruised through its nonconference schedule with only a few slight missteps.
Now the first-year players will get their first chance to see what Big Ten play is like when the sixth-ranked Buckeyes (11-2) host Indiana (9-3) on Tuesday night in the conference opener for both squads.
The Buckeyes brought in four of the nation’s top recruits this season, led by 7-foot center Greg Oden, considered one of the best big man prospects in years. Along with several returnees from a team that won the Big Ten last season, the Buckeyes were expected to accomplish big things.
So far, Ohio State has, the only blemishes being road losses to then-No. 7 North Carolina and then-No. 5 Florida.
The Buckeyes have won by at least 12 points in each of their 11 victories and capped off the nonconference season by beating Coppin State 91-54 at home Saturday. Ohio State shot 57.1 percent and knocked down 10 3-pointers to improve to 10-0 at home.
Oden, who missed the first seven games while recovering from offseason wrist surgery, had 18 points and 16 rebounds and fellow freshman Daequan Cook had a career-high 23 points off the bench.
Cook leads the Buckeyes in scoring at 15.9 points per game, while Oden is averaging 14.5 points on 70.8 percent shooting in his first six contests. He matched his career high for points against Coppin State, set a career high in rebounds and is ready for conference play to begin.
“It’s just being out there with my teammates, getting all of us used to playing with each other,” he said. “It’s also getting into the flow because that’s going to help us in the Big Ten season.”
The Buckeyes went 12-4 in the conference in 2005-06 to win the outright regular season title for the first time since 1991-92. Ohio State graduated conference player of the year Terence Dials and lost three other starters, but with the excellent freshmen class, the Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat this season.
“It’s physical—very physical. It’s a tough conference to play in, but a fun conference,” Ohio State junior Jamar Butler said. “I think they’ll do fine.”
Ohio State went 7-1 at home in Big Ten play last season, the only defeat coming in double overtime to Michigan State. The Buckeyes split their two meetings with Indiana, losing 81-79 on the road Jan. 7 before beating the Hoosiers 52-51 in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament March 11.
The Hoosiers are 0-2 on the road this season, but the losses came at then-No. 11 Duke and Kentucky, two of the toughest places in the nation to visit. Indiana has won four straight as it enters conference play, including a 71-57 victory over Ball State on Saturday.
“I think we’re pretty good at what we do right now,” first-year coach Kelvin Sampson said. “When you play in conference play, the most important part of the game is guard play. If we have good guard play then we’ll have a chance to be successful in this league. Having played at Kentucky and at Duke helped us play in a tough environment.”
The Hoosiers finished 9-7 last season in the Big Ten, but 2-6 on the road.
Indiana has lost three of its last four games in Columbus, though the teams have split their last six meetings overall.