Cody Cousino / Assistant multimedia editor
In 2002, it took Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel 14 games to complete his only undefeated season at the school. OSU basketball coach Thad Matta has kept his team undefeated through its first 22 games this season, and is now finding himself jealous of the length of his football counterpart’s season.
“Coach Tressel and I were texting, I don’t know, a week or so ago,” Matta said. “I said, ‘Be thankful you only have 13 of these as opposed to them coming at you like this.'”
With their 22-0 record, Matta’s Buckeyes are the only undefeated team remaining in college basketball this season, an accomplishment that was reflected in Monday’s polls — OSU was a unanimous first-place selection in both The Associated Press’ Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll.
Though the Buckeyes still have half of their conference schedule ahead of them, as well as the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, Matta said remaining undefeated at this point in the season is an accomplishment in and of itself.
“We’re the only team that’s still undefeated,” Matta said. “It’s such a long season, and I think that’s one of the great challenges.”
OSU junior guard William Buford agreed with Matta that remaining unbeaten can be viewed as an achievement, as well as a vindication for preparation both before and during the season.
“It’s kind of amazing,” Buford said. “It lets us know that all the hard work has paid off.”
Buford said the key to the Buckeyes’ undefeated streak has been ignoring the big picture, and focusing on each task at hand.
“We just take one game at a time,” he said. “We try to get better and better, day by day.”
Matta said the Buckeyes have remained so focused on each step ahead of them that he doesn’t think they know how many games they’ve won this season. As for the team knowing how many losses they have — that’s a different story.
“They do know that; I know that for sure,” Matta said. “I mean, you have six freshmen who have never lost a college game.”
One of those freshmen is forward Deshaun Thomas, who said he doesn’t get as excited after a win as he did earlier in the season.
“I used to get all hyped ’cause I was a freshman, but now it’s just on to the next one,” Thomas said. “It’s not over; we still got a long season.”
The second half of the Big Ten schedule isn’t likely to be any easier than the first was for the Buckeyes. They still have road games against ranked Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as a home game against Illinois, which led OSU by as many as eight points in the second half of their Jan. 22 matchup. Matta said he knows it’s going to take the Buckeyes’ best effort each night for them to remain undefeated.
“I think our guys understand now that this is for real,” Matta said. “On any given night, if we don’t play well, we’re not going to like the outcome.”
OSU will look to advance to 23-0 on Thursday when it hosts Michigan, which the Buckeyes beat, 68-64, on Jan. 12 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.