Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 1/10/12
It's a big week for the Ohio State basketball team. Let's explore. 1Tuesday night, the Buckeyes play a game they should win at Illinois. The Buckeyes should win a lot of games -- almost all of them -- when they're healthy and clicking, and it appears that they are. But Illinois has some talent, provides a tough place to play and all involved on the Illinois side, players and fans, will treat this one like the Super Bowl. The Buckeyes are used to that by now, and they generally handle it well. Thad Matta keeps reminding everybody that this team is much younger and less experienced than last year's bunch, and in a broad sense he's right. But the key guys have been here before and should be able to show the way. This is an Ohio State team that will keep improving -- and needs to -- every week. If it's peaking in March, it will have a shot. 2After this game comes a bit of an extended rest and a suddenly very interesting home game Sunday vs. Indiana. Perhaps you remember when the Hoosiers were always good? Also, perhaps you remember Indiana beating Ohio State on New Year's Eve? Indiana is 15-1 heading into its next game Thursday vs. Minnesota and the Hoosiers have proven to be no fluke. They probably aren't ready for what's going to hit them Sunday in Columbus, but we'll find out. It's a national spotlight game, a huge game in the scheme of the Big Ten race and one to remember as the season progresses. 3Jared Sullinger appears to be back to being Jared Sullinger, and that's good news for the Buckeyes and very bad news for the rest of the Big Ten. December was a month to forget as Sullinger battled some nagging injuries then had to play his way back into shape in some no-win situation type games, but he seems to be back now. Sullinger has two double-doubles in four Big Ten games, had 28 points and 8 rebounds in Saturday's business-like demolition of Iowa and faces another big week as he battles Illinois' Myers Leonard and Indiana super-freshman Cody Zeller on the block this week. "I think he's finally feeling good," Matta said. "He feels more comfortable out there. He's getting back into game shape. His lift is back. His timing is back." 4One of the luxuries Matta has is knowing that Sullinger is going to be a double-double guy and probably an 18 or 20-point guy in these big games. Matta is known for keeping his rotations tight but another luxury he's had lately is that the young players he's played in big minutes, whether by experiment or necessity, have handled themselves well. The Buckeyes are athletic and potentially deep, and these games will bost test that depth and give the likes of Shannon Scott, Jordan Sibert, Sam Thompson and J.D. Weatherspoon the chance to earn minutes and Matta's trust. 5It's too early to think about NCAA Tournament seeding, especially because the Big Ten race is both just beginning and shaping up to be a wild one. But there's no doubt that Indiana has a 1-seed type resume with wins over Kentucky and Ohio State, Ohio State has a lesser but similar one with wins over Florida and Duke and that Michigan State is playing its best basketball right now. Obviously, Michigan State has already beaten Indiana and somebody is going to lose Sunday's Indiana-Ohio State game. With the way Michigan is playing and the way Illinois and Purdue and Wisconsin remain dangerous, especially at home, there's a whole lot of sorting left to do. The Buckeyes haven't played like a 1 seed since the Duke game, and there are reasons for that. The next three weeks give Ohio State a chance to change that. One other very key area to watch: William Buford had 28 points and 5 3-pointers in the Big Ten opener, a rout of Northwestern. He's gone 0-2, 0-5, and 1-4 from beyond the arc in the three league games since. The Buckeyes need those shots and they need Buford to be efficient to be at their best.
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