COLUMBUS - Thad Matta jokes that he has a secret weapon going into No. 4 Ohio State's ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown on Wednesday night at No. 2 Duke.
Greg Paulus, in his second year as the Buckeyes' video coordinator, was one of the Blue Devils' patented scrappy point guards from 2006-09. He's diagrammed where all the dead spots are on the floor at legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"He's got it all mapped out," Matta said, trying to hold back a grin. "There's a big chart with pins stuck in it."
PREPARING — Ohio State coach Thad Matta talks with Evan Ravenel and LaQuinton Ross during the second half of their team’s 69-58 victory over Rhode Island Nov. 17 during the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament in Uncasville, Conn.
-- Associated Press
Instead of the nuances of the old gym, the Buckeyes are concerned more with how they play and how that measures up against the mighty Blue Devils in a key game for both teams.
To get ready for the trip - and for a date with Cameron Indoor's famously loud and boisterous students - Matta had crowd noise blaring during practice this week. That's about the only concession the Buckeyes have made to the game beyond a series of hard practices.
Hanging over the matchup is the specter of last year's meeting between the teams.
When No. 3 Duke played at second-ranked Ohio State, the Buckeyes could do no wrong and the Blue Devils could do no right.
Ohio State scored the first 11 points, led by 19 at the half and was on top by as many as 25 in what ended up as an 85-63 landslide. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team was tired and overwhelmed.
"Sometimes you just get your butt kicked," Krzyzewski said after the blowout. "We were getting our butt kicked. I've had my butt kicked before. We've kicked some butt. Tonight my butt's sore."
As forgettable as that night was for the Blue Devils, it became a constant reminder to the Buckeyes (4-0). Throughout a 31-8 season that took them all the way to the Final Four, when things got tough they would fall back on what they did against Duke.
"I wouldn't say that game was easy," guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "I just think it was a defining moment for our team. Coach (Matta) talks all the time about five guys being connected. It doesn't matter what team we would have played that game. I don't think anybody could have beaten us we were so connected. No one cared about anything other than winning that basketball game.
"Everybody had a job to do and everybody was focused on their job only."
Of course, Ohio State's players have played in a lot of difficult places, from Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas to Michigan State's Breslin Center and dozens of others.
But a good performance at Cameron Indoor still counts for a lot.
"We have a lot of guys like Lenzelle, myself, Deshaun (Thomas) and Evan Ravenel who have been in (difficult) situations and understand what it's like. Some of the younger guys have been there but haven't experienced playing in it," point guard Aaron Craft said. "We need to solidify ourselves as a basketball team, solidify our identity and understand as crazy as it's going to be down there - we're going to play in some crazy atmospheres this year - it is still a basketball game.
"It's going to come down to execution and what we have practiced up to this point. Hopefully we can have enough mental toughness to do it."
Smith said he expects "chaos" from the student section. Craft called them "loud and obnoxious" but said he looks forward to testing himself in such a hostile place.
Duke (6-0) is off to a flying start, rocketing past Minnesota, Virginia Commonwealth and then-No. 2 Louisville last week to win the Battle for Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
"This has been a good team thus far," Krzyzewski said this week. "In fact, a very good team. We've ended up playing the toughest schedule in the country.
"The competition has helped us improve but also learn more about one another."
Matta wants to learn more about his own team.
"You go into the game and you're saying, 'Hey, at the conclusion of this game, you're going to know a lot more about your team,'" he said. "Road environment, it's going to be hostile, you're playing a great basketball team. From that perspective, as much as you want to look at (Wednesday night), you're thinking long term as well."
The Blue Devils have won their last 96 games against non-conference teams at home. On first reference, Matta said Duke had won its last 900 such games at Cameron. Then he said he may have fudged when he mentioned it to his players.
"Nine-thousand straight is what I told them," he said, laughing.