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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The No. 4-ranked Ohio State men's basketball team will make its unofficial debut later night in an exhibition against Walsh University. And although the game won't count towards the Buckeyes' win-loss total for the 2012-13 season, that doesn't mean that they won't have anything to play for against the Cavaliers.
Considering that OSU lost more than 32 points of total offense from last year's squad, tonight's exhibition will provide the first glimpse into how the Buckeyes' will go about replacing the production that it will have to make up for with the departures of Jared Sullinger and William Buford. Junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. even admitted on Monday that it will be strange taking the Schotteinstein Center court without two of the players who occupied the OSU starting lineup for each of the past two years.
"It's a brand new team, a different feel. Of course we're going to miss guys," Smith said. "It's our job to continue to continue carrying the torch, keep the tradition going and win in this building."
Perhaps the most interesting part of tonight's game will be to see how OSU coach Thad Matta utilizes this year's roster in terms of lineups and rotations. The ninth-year Buckeye coach has yet to name replacements for Sullinger and Buford in the starting lineup, but admitted that he's toyed with the idea of using half a dozen different lineup combinations this season.
"In terms of mix and matching different guys, I'd would say six or seven different lineups," Matta said. "Will we have the ability to see them all tomorrow? I don't know that."
How those potential lineups play with each other could provide some insight into what the makeup of this year's Buckeyes team will look like. One of the three returning starters from last season, junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. isn't as concerned with who he's playing alongside tonight as much as he is how they're playing.
"I just want to better tomorrow than we're going to be in practice today," Smith said on Monday. "I just want this to team to gel together well. For it to be our first time in a game environment and a game-type experience for some of our younger guys, and I just want them to appreciate that and feel what it's like to be out there."
One of those younger players will be freshman guard Amedeo Della Valle, who will be putting on his No. 33 jersey in front of a Schottenstein Center crowd for the first time tonight. Although the scouting report on Della Valle is that he's a sharpshooting outside threat, Smith was reluctant to compare him to the last Buckeye to wear No. 33, but admitted that he could provide a similar dynamic to this year's team.
"I wouldn't say Jon Diebler, but if I was to compare him or spark any interest in who I would guard him like, it would have to be Jon," Smith said. "Anything wide open, he's going to make it."
But perhaps simpler than figuring out lineups and showcasing what the team's lone true freshman can provide, tonight will give the Buckeyes a chance to get back on the court and get their feet wet in a dress rehearsal 10 days before their season-opening tipoff against Marquette. It will certainly be a welcome opportunity for many OSU players, including sophomore forward Sam Thompson, who has been itching to get back on the floor for an actual game since the Buckeyes' season-ending loss to Kansas in last season's Final Four.
"We've been working so hard for these last five, six months, whatever it's been, for this moment," Thompson said. "Tomorrow we get a chance to get on the court, start a new year."