Rooting For The Unaccustomed Underdog

This afternoon the Ohio State men’s basketball team welcomes the Michigan Wolverines to the Schott.  It will be the first conference game in years where the rest of the Big Ten is rooting for the Buckeyes to win.

During most of Thad Matta’s highly successful tenure as the Ohio State coach, the Buckeyes have been at the top of the Big Ten.  They’ve dominated the Wolverines and knocked them out of the Big Ten Tournament three years in a row.  This year, though, the tables are turned.  Michigan is unbeaten and, with Duke’s loss yesterday, will be ranked number 1 in the land if they can beat the Buckeyes today.  Ohio State, on the other hand, has seen its offensive struggles continue and isn’t the overwhelming force of the past few years.  The Buckeyes got crushed on the road at Illinois and will have to play their best game of the year to beat the Wolverines.

Michigan is talented and deep.  They’ve got the best point guard in the conference in Trey Burke, who dishes out assists and leads the Wolverines in scoring.  Tim Hardaway, Jr. and freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III also average double-digit point production.  The Wolverines have shot better than 50 percent from the field and are averaging more than 80 points a game.  Ohio State fans would love to see the Buckeyes put up those kinds of statistics.

The Big Ten is supposed to be competitive this year.  For that to happen, teams like Ohio State must beat the Michigans, Indianas, and Minnesotas at home and win on the road against the weaker teams.  So far in conference play, Michigan has beaten Northwestern, Iowa, and Nebraska, three of the struggling teams.  Buckeye Nation hopes that Ohio State introduces Michigan to a real, full-throated, hostile Big Ten environment today at the Schott.  I’m expecting the Buckeye Nut House — the student section located behind the visitors bench — to scream their brains out and get treated for laryngitis tomorrow.  With a little help from the crowd, Ohio State could pull off an upset.

Edited to add:  Ohio State got out to a big lead in the first half, then held on for dear life to hand the Wolverines their first loss.  The crowd seemed to be really into the game, and their enthusiasm clearly helped the Buckeyes.

Time For The Nut House To Rock The Schott!

Tomorrow the Buckeyes play the Michigan Wolverines at the Schott.  The winner will stay atop the Big Ten.  The loser is, well, the loser.

Michigan has a good team this year.  Tim Hardaway is one of the Big Ten’s best offensive players.  Jordan Morgan plays a tough inside game.  Trey Burke has been a huge help at point guard and has brought some scoring punch.  Zack Novak is the three-point specialist who is the heart and soul of the Wolverines.

This is a game with lots of intriguing matchups.  Who is going to guard Hardaway, and who is going to guard Deshaun Thomas?  Can Aaron Craft stop Burke?  Can Morgan play even up with Jared Sullinger?  Which William Buford will show up?  And is a Wolverine going to be unconscious from outside, like Brandon Paul was when the Buckeyes played Illinois earlier this year?

I went to last year’s OSU against Michigan, and it was a tremendous atmosphere.  The student section, called the Nut House, was ear-splitting all game and obviously made it tough for Michigan to communicate during timeouts.  I thought the crowd helped to pull the Buckeyes through to a win — and I’m hoping that tomorrow afternoon we see more of the same.  I know the Nut House has some new head cutouts — including Urban Meyer — that we’ll see during the game.

C’mon, Nut House!  Time to get loud and proud!

The Schott And The Nut House

I’ve had the opportunity to go see the Buckeyes play a number of basketball games at the Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center.  Its full name is a mouthful, but most OSU basketball fans just call it the Schott.

The Schott was designed as a multi-purpose facility.  The Ohio State men’s and women’s basketball teams play there, as does the men’s ice hockey team.  It hosts concerts — Roger Waters memorably performed The Wall there in October — and other events like Cirque du Soleil shows.  Because it is a multi-purpose facility, trade-offs have been made that make it a less-than-perfect basketball venue. Its interior is a big bowl, the better to have unobstructed sight lines from the loge boxes.  There is sound-dampening material in certain areas that helps with concert acoustics.  As a result, the Schott seems to swallow up sound and doesn’t reach the kind of ear-splitting levels that you would find at St. John Arena — or at other Big Ten basketball venues, like Illinois’ Assembly Hall or Purdue’s Mackey Arena.

The Nut House

For this reason, other Big Ten teams don’t consider the Schott a particularly intimidating place to play (apart from the fact, of course, that under Coach Thad Matta, Ohio State has had some intimidating basketball teams playing there).  To its credit, Ohio State’s Athletic Department seems to have recognized this issue.  This year they have moved more students down to the floor level, in an area called the Nut House.  The Nut House students are seated around the visitors’ bench and do their best to raise a ruckus.  They wear Nut House t-shirts and funky outfits, have standardized cheers and chants, sing songs, and wave “fathead” cutouts of the heads of OSU President E. Gordon Gee, a smurf, former OSU great Michael Redd, and Snooki from Jersey Shore, among others, in an effort to distract free throw shooters on the opposing team.  The most recent game, against Michigan, got about as loud as any game I’ve attended at the Schott.

Because of the design choices, the crowd at the Schott will never be able to reach the decibel levels found at some other college basketball venues.  However, I applaud the Athletic Department and, in particular, the Nut House students for working to make the Schott a venue that is louder, more interesting, more fun, and hopefully more intimidating for the opposing teams that have the temerity to try to defeat the Buckeyes on their home floor.