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October 13, 2006

Ohio State to survive until Oden's January return

Smith key to Vols plan
Midnight Madness Preview
The College Basketball Wire

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -Greg Oden, acclaimed by many as the best young big man in the country, won't play for Ohio State until January while he continues to recover from a wrist injury.

In the meantime, the Buckeyes - featuring five newcomers - will try to not let the season slip away.

"A coach once told me we're all a sprained ankle away from mediocrity," coach Thad Matta said Thursday at the team's media day. "We've got guys who know we're going to go through some ups and downs, but that's what makes you stronger in the end."

Oden, the 7-foot-1 freshman out of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, underwent surgery June 16 to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist. He will not participate in full practices with the Buckeyes until a screw used to stabilize the wrist is removed surgically and he has gone through rehabilitation.

Oden is running and staying in condition. His recovery is right on schedule, but that doesn't make his absence any easier to take.

"He's a freak athlete," backup center Matt Terwilliger said of the mobile, aggressive Oden.

Oden's loss is particularly keen for a team that went 26-6, won the Big Ten's regular season title and received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes lost in the second round to Georgetown.

To help season a young but extremely talented team, Matta put together an ambitious schedule that includes several top teams before Big Ten play gets under way in January.

The Buckeyes play at North Carolina on Nov. 29, then match up with defending national champion Florida on Dec. 23. Matta said it's unlikely Oden will be available for either game, and that Terwilliger likely will be the Buckeyes' lone big man.

Terwilliger was a spot player behind Big Ten player of the year Terence Dials last season, averaging 2.3 points and 1.6 rebounds a game. He'll be asked to hold his own against a North Carolina team that stacks its lineup with Tyler Hansbrough and a Florida squad that can put big men Joakim Noah and Al Horford on the floor at the same time.

"I'm not going to lie, it worries me," point guard Jamar Butler said of the lack of depth under the basket.

In addition to Dials, the Buckeyes lost starters J.J. Sullinger, Je'Kel Foster and Matt Sylvester to graduation.

Butler (10.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Terwilliger will be joined in this year's rotation by sixth-man Ron Lewis (11.2 ppg). Filling in around the edges until Oden returns will be perimeter shooter Ivan Harris and four marquee first-year players.

Mike Conley, Oden's high school teammate, will share time at guard with two of the top players in Ohio, Daequan Cook and David Lighty. Expected to help out in the frontcourt is 6-9 Othello Hunter, a transfer from Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College.

A year ago, Ohio State played under the national radar for most of the season before rising as high as No. 6 in The Associated Press poll. That's not the case this year with the recruiting class dubbed "The Thad Five."

"The only microscope we're going to be under is our own," said Matta, 46-18 in two years at Ohio State. "That's the way we have to operate because with this team there are so many unknowns. We want to play our best basketball in February and March.

"Obviously we have some tremendous challenges ahead of us early on, but those things are going to do nothing but strengthen us later."

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