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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State coach Thad Matta believes his team has learned a lot from its worst games.
"It's a growing experience," Matta said Monday during final preparations for his team's Big Ten opener Tuesday at home against Iowa. "As I told our guys yesterday, 'Hey, at this time last year we were sitting at 13-0 and we probably had some fool's gold.' (We had some) things that we didn't know about ourselves that we had to learn the hard way."
That Buckeyes team barely kept its head above water in the Big Ten, going 10-8 while finishing fifth. It won its first two conference games — then dropped four in a row and was playing catch-up the rest of the season.
Matta thinks things are much better now.
"Hopefully, the two losses that we have right now will pay us dividends in crucial moments of games," he said.
The 20th-ranked Buckeyes (11-2) are 11-0 against an anemic home schedule and have looked miserable in losing their only two games to ranked opponents, then-No. 5 Louisville and No. 24 North Carolina.
But the players say there's an underlying feeling that despite beating up on the likes of UMass-Lowell, Sacred Heart, Campbell and Colgate so far, they're capable of bigger things.
"We know we can put a lot more points on the board and our (zone) defense we haven't really, I guess, fully committed to it yet," point guard Shannon Scott said. "We make a lot of mistakes in it still that we have to correct. When we start to playing to the best of our ability on offense and defense, we're going to be a great team."
The Buckeyes host Iowa (9-4) in a rare Tuesday matinee to open the Big Ten season. Both teams are talented but have had lapses while blending in new and inexperienced players.
The Hawkeyes won at North Carolina. The Buckeyes lost to the Tar Heels 82-74 on a neutral court, but have been outscored in the paint and in points off turnovers in each of their losses.
Iowa won a year ago at Ohio State's Value City Arena, 84-74.
"It's a great atmosphere, and we played with a great deal of poise last year to win that game," coach Fran McCaffery said Monday during a conference call. "Having gone through that, you know what you have to do to win the game."
The Hawkeyes are without three of their best players from a year ago — leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble (17.7 ppg), along with Melsahn Basabe (7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds) and sub Zach McCabe (6.1 points).
The Buckeyes have new faces replacing their top scorer from a year ago, LaQuinton Ross, and point guard Aaron Craft.
With four freshmen in a 10-man rotation, they've looked erratic defensively and careless with the ball at times. But first-year shooting guard D'Angelo Russell (17.7 points) has piled up points and top rookie subs Kam Williams, Jae'Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop have made the team more athletic.
Russell has shown lottery-pick offensive skills so far. But he's not so sure how things will go now that the Big Ten schedule has arrived.
"I don't know what to expect," he said. "I'm just trying to prepare the best way I can for it."
The same could be said for all of the Buckeyes.
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