COLUMBUS – Ohio State had played the No. 1 team in the country 17 times before Wednesday night`s showdown with top-ranked North Carolina.
The Buckeyes` record in those games was 8-9, but they had won six of the last seven – two during Thad Matta`s tenure as coach.
Those meetings included last season`s 49-48 win over No. 1 Wisconsin at Value City Arena and the regular-season finale in 2005 when Ohio State handed No. 1 Illinois its first loss (65-64) of the season.
The matchup against North Carolina had Columbus abuzz, including Buckeyes guard Jamar Butler who played in several big games last season.
“It`s very exciting, it`s what you come here for,” the Buckeyes captain said. “It`s what you dream about growing up as a kid. Playing on national TV against the No. 1 team in the country and having a chance to play against them in your own gym.”
The other four most recent victories over No. 1 teams were a pair of home wins over Indiana in 1993 and 1983, a road victory over Iowa in 1987 and a win over Duke in 1978 on a neutral court.
Wednesday`s game against North Carolina was Matta`s fourth against a No. 1 team during his coaching career. Matta and his Xavier Musketeers humbled No. 1 St. Joseph`s 87-67 in the 2004 Atlantic-10 Tournament.
On the flip side, Matta knows what it`s like to have the bull`s-eye on his own back as the coach of a top-ranked team.
“We were No. 1 in the country a long time last year so we have a pretty good appreciation for what North Carolina is going through,” Matta said. “We`ve got respect for their team, but I don`t put too much stock in one game this early on.
“This game is more of a good test of where we are.”
VEGAS WOWS HEELS
While Ohio State was earning the runner-up prize at the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Tar Heels were winning the Las Vegas Invitational.
Junior point guard Bobby Frasor, who started Wednesday night for Ty Lawson after Lawson injured his ankle in the Las Vegas championship game, was asked if playing in Sin City was different than other venues.
“Yeah, it was different,” Frasor said. “At the end of the game people were worried about the point spread.
“You see a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (who sang the national anthem) walking past you when you`re getting ready to go into the locker room. But when it came down to it, it`s just basketball.”
Frasor, who turned 21 on Halloween, elicited more laughter when asked if he gambled while at the event.
“I did and I lost,” he said. “I walked out of Vegas with my pockets hanging out of my pants.”
TV PLAYS NAME GAME
The media attending North Carolina coach Roy Williams` news conference Tuesday afternoon may have been looking to stir up the veteran coach by asking why the name of the ESPN-broadcast event was changed to the Big Ten/ACC Challenge after always being known as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge?
“I have no idea,” Williams said. “Has it always been called the ACC first? I didn`t know it was even called the other thing. I just know it was ACC teams and Big Ten teams playing each other every year.”
The event, which is in its ninth year, actually switches the conference names each year. ESPN didn`t want to play favorites and upset the cash cow the event has become.
“It wasn`t supposed to be this way, but ESPN branded it as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and that`s what most people have called it,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in 1995 – the year the switching began.
Ohio State is in the midst of a grind – at least by college basketball standards – that has the Buckeyes playing five games in 11 days.
The stretch began with the Buckeyes` two games in the semifinal and championship of the NIT last week, a home game Sunday against VMI and Wednesday`s showdown with UNC. It concludes with a road game Saturday against No. 16 Butler.
The tour is allowing Ohio State players to see some of basketball`s more historic venues. The NIT games took place in New York`s Madison Square Garden, the home game vs. VMI was actually played in St. John Arena and the game against Butler will take place in Indianapolis at Hinkle Fieldhouse – the venue used in the movie “Hoosiers.”
According to Williams, Matta has managed to land the top big man in the country for the past three recruiting classes.
“I told Thad last year with Greg (Oden), I thought he had the best freshman center prospect in the country and I felt the same way with Kosta (Koufos). Now he has signed B.J. Mullens (from Columbus), who is probably the top center in that class.”
* Besides the 7-foot, 260-pound Mullens, Matta also received 2008-09 commitments from Toledo Libbey guard William Buford, Flint, Mich., guard Anthony Crater and Indianapolis guard Walter Offutt.
* The Buckeyes have played eight times on Nov. 28, going 7-1 before Wednesday`s game against North Carolina. The last time OSU played on the date was a win over Virginia Tech in the 2005 Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
* Entering Wednesday`s game, the Tar Heels held an 8-2 all-time record against the Buckeyes, including the last three meetings. Ohio State`s two wins in the series came in 1929 in Columbus and on March 27, 1992, in the NCAA Midwest Regional in Lexington, Ky.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or email@example.com.