Ohio State is Big Ten’s big favorite

Rosemont, Ill. — Preseason expectations of the Big Ten men’s basketball season are, in large part, centered around Ohio State.

The Big Ten coaches voted the Buckeyes as the favorites of the conference, while sophomore forward Jared Sullinger garnered the Preseason Player of the Year award.

“You must convince your players that the only expectations that matter are the ones we have inside our circle,” head coach Thad Matta said. “There’s no entitlement to win a basketball game, because the people have voted you to this spot, you gotta go out and do it.”

If the Buckeyes are to live up to expectations, Sullinger will likely need to build off a successful freshman campaign that saw him average 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. While Matta didn’t want to definitively call Sullinger the best big man in the country, he is more than happy his star player decided to return to school instead of jump to the NBA.

“The thing is, he’s a winner,” Matta said. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody, I do know that.”

Opponents from around the conference were probably wishing he had taken the leap to the pros instead of returning for another year because of the matchup problems he causes.

“It’s always hard the way he uses his body,” Michigan State senior forward Draymond Green said. “That’s what makes him so special.”

While optimism is high in Columbus, Ohio, Matta is cautious to look too far ahead to the Big Ten schedule.

“I don’t think about the Big Ten until right after Christmas,” Matta said. “I like to sleep at night. I think from top bottom, the parity is going to be incredible, but what usually wins in the Big Ten is experience.”

Ohio State is expected to be tested most toward the end of the season with a difficult February. It starts with a trip to Madison, Wis., to take on the Badgers before hosting Purdue. After away games against Minnesota and Michigan, the Buckeyes will return home to take on the Illini and Badgers.

The Buckeyes season then wraps up on the road against Northwestern and Michigan State.

“They’re always tough, they always come in loaded like last year,” Wisconsin junior forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “It’s the same thing this year having Sullinger, Buford and Craft all back, those guys are all great players, and they’ll be tough once again.”

Ohio State sophomore guard Aaron Craft, who averaged 4.8 assists per game last season, believes the tough slate of games could be beneficial entering both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

“Having to play our best basketball at the end of the year is always a good thing,” Craft said. “That’s what you want and that’s how the season is supposed to go.”

At the end of the season, Matta just hopes his players reach the potential many have billed them to have.

“I think there was this guy, John Wooden, who said, ‘The guy with the best players usually wins,’” Matta said. “That’s kind of the bottom line.”