Matta Chuckles at Irony of Michigan Facing Ohio
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — The Michigan Wolverines will face Ohio in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
No, not that Ohio.
The real Ohio.
The one that was founded in 1804 in Athens, Ohio. The one that wears green and white and has a mascot named Rufus the Bobcat, who once tackled Brutus Buckeye during a football game.
In other words, the real Ohio.
Not to be confused with the Ohio State University, a school in Columbus, Ohio that has a heated rivalry with the Wolverines dating back to the early 20th century.
“That's gonna be really confusing for them,” OSU men's basketball coach Thad Matta said with a laugh Sunday.
Confusing because Michigan basketball coach John Beilein has adopted the practice of referring to Ohio State simply as ‘Ohio,’ something that was started by the school’s football coach, Brady Hoke, when he took over for Rich Rodriguez last year.
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Hoke grew up around the OSU-Michigan rivalry, and obviously remembers how legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes refused to call “the school up north” by its actual name.
“There's Ohio University and then there's just Ohio,” Beilein said during an interview Monday on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit on Monday.
“And Ohio University is who we're playing on Friday.”
Hoke’s dig, and Beilein’s decision to follow, were obviously aimed at Ohio State, whose fans have actually taken exception to the practice. But so has Ohio University basketball coach John Groce.
“It is kind of disrespectful, but it is what it is,” Groce told the Ohio University Post, the school’s student newspaper, last month.
“You can’t control what other people say. You can only control what you’re doing on a daily basis. That’s how we operate here, and I can assure you that’s how Coach Matta operates in Columbus.”
Groce, 40, was actually an assistant of Matta’s at all three of his head coaching stops—Butler, Xavier and, most recently, Ohio State. He worked under Matta in Columbus from 2004-08 before taking the head-coaching job in Athens.
He has led the Bobcats to two 20-win seasons in four years, and they are playing in their second NCAA Tournament under Groce. This one has a little bit more intrigue and edge to it, thanks to the NCAA Selection Committee’s decision to pair Michigan with the real Ohio.
“That is irony at its finest,” Matta said.
“Maybe (Ohio University) can borrow whatever uniform we aren't wearing.”
Beilein has gone back and forth on why he refers to Ohio State as ‘Ohio.’ Most recently, he said it was because OSU fans are constantly chanting “O-H-I-O,” which has prompted Michigan fans to respond with a “Beat Ohio” chant before every matchup with their archrivals from Columbus.
The Buckeyes recently knocked the Wolverines out of the Big Ten Tournament for the third-straight season, and while Groce understands that the slight is meant for the team wearing scarlet and gray, it still effects the one in green and white.
“My deal is that’s a spat between Ohio State and Michigan,” Groce told the Athens Messenger on Sunday evening.
“The thing that gets lost in the deal is we’re Ohio University. We’re Ohio. We liked to be referred to as Ohio. That’s who we are.”
Hopefully Beilein and his team figure that out pretty quickly or else they might show up in Pittsburgh on Thursday around 9:50 p.m.
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