It's All Good, Even If It's Bad, for Ohio State at North Carolina
When Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann says he's "excited about the chance to go on the road," two things leap to mind:
- He's being sarcastic, betraying his true thoughts about a 9:30 p.m. game Wednesday at No. 7 North Carolina.
- When he saw the schedule reading, "at UNC," Holtmann mistook it for a trip to University of Nevada-Carson City.
Turns out, Holtmann isn't being facetious, and, yes, he has the proper itinerary in hand, knowing full well the down side of an ACC-Big Ten Challenge match-up against Roy Williams' Tar Heels at the Dean Dome.
"Believe it or not," Holtmann said, "nothing but good things can come with that this early in the season."
The benefit is obvious...a win over a legacy, multiple-national-title program like North Carolina lends credibility to OSU's 7-0 start and instills confidence for the start of Big Ten play, which begins Saturday at home against No. 24 Penn State.
The down side is less apparent, for a blowout loss would seemingly loom as a confidence-crusher at a point on the calendar when the Buckeyes don't play just two Top 25 teams back-to-back, but face a remaining December schedule with games against Kentucky and West Virginia.
"I think you're always concerned about going into an environment like that and not being your best and not performing well," Holtmann said. "That's the nature of how we think as coaches in a lot of ways. That's how we operate at times.
"But what can only come from that is, if you play really good teams and you play them on the road, if you get exposed, you put your players and us as a team in difficult situations, we get to see how we respond.
"That's the exciting thing. If we don't respond the right way, then we have to figure out who is going to respond the right way and we have to figure out -- the ones that didn't -- how do we change that behavior? We get to figure out how we respond in difficult moments, and that can only help us."
The Buckeyes are young, with four freshmen contributing, and two sophomores starting.
Junior center Kaleb Wesson has been through enough hostile Big Ten road environments to know what's coming from Tar Heels faithful.
"Our freshmen have no idea what it's going to be like," Wesson said. "It's going to be loud. When it is, you have to keep your poise,"
Junior C.J. Walker, who played two seasons at Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference, hopes the youngest Buckeyes are inspired by the venue.
"When you think about the fact that guys like Michael Jordan and Vince Carter, the people who you watched as a kid and wanted to grow up and be like, played there, now you're playing in that gym," Walker said. "It's kind of crazy."
North Carolina is 6-1 after a 73-64 loss to Michigan and four-point win over Oregon in the Battle for Atlantis.
The Tar Heels feature one of the nation's best freshmen in Cole Anthony, the son of former UNLV and NBA guard Greg Anthony. Anthony had 34 points in his college debut, a 76-65 win over Notre Dame.
UNC had 12 blocked shots in its victory against Oregon.
The Buckeyes have restricted opponents to less than 40 percent shooting and fewer than 60 points in every game, but maintaining that againset the fast-breaking Tar Heels is unlikely.
"We're still learning who we are," Holtmann said. "What I know is, we have some really good players who enjoy playing together and are playing well. Until you go on the road and it's loud and there's some negative energy coming at you, that's when you find out about your team."
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