Being the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament doesn't bring as much pressure as the regular-season's No.1 ranking, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
As Ohio State (32-2) prepares to open NCAA Tournament play Friday against Texas-San Antonio at Quicken Loans Arena, Matta said the Buckeyes are wearing a different target than they did during the regular season.
"The rest of the games from here on out are at neutral sites,'' Matta said during a Tuesday conference call. "It's amazing what you see when you go on the road as the No. 1 team in the country. It's a tremendous challenge in those games.''
Matta is trying to keep his team from looking ahead in the East Region, which some say may be the toughest road to the Final Four. The bracket also includes possible matchups with Kentucky and North Carolina if OSU gets by UT-San Antonio and the George Mason/Villanova winner in Cleveland.
"As we talk to our guys, we've got a two-game tournament here,'' Matta said. "Our focus is solely on the winner of the San Antonio-Alabama State game. From there we've got either Villanova or George Mason. We want to get through those and take a deep breath and hopefully we're coming home getting ready to go to the next spot.'' That would be Newark, N.J. on March 25 and 27.
Matta's biggest concern going into the tournament is his team's defense. Going into today's games, OSU ranks 11th in NCAA Division I in scoring defense with 59.8 points per game allowed. (FYI, George Mason was 27th, 61.5.)
"No matter who we're playing, when we're playing, where we're playing, we have to be as sound as we can defensively,'' he said. "You're probably going to have some nights where you don't shoot the ball as well as you'd like. We've got to continue to play the defensive we're capable of.''
Matta said he feels as good about this team in that regard as he did the 2007 Greg Oden-Mike Conley Jr. squad that lost to Florida in the NCAA championship game.
"I do feel comfortable with this team defensively. The one thing these guys have learned, a lot like the '07 team, we have the ability to score through our defense,'' Matta said. "That's when we're playing our best basketball, when we're getting out in transition. That's something we're always talking about.''