Let the Games Begin: Buckeyes Earn 2-seed in West Region
By Brandon Castel
CHICAGO — The road to Atlanta goes through Los Angeles.
That’s not exactly the way Ohio State head coach Thad Matta probably would have drawn it up, but nobody asked him when they announced the 68-team tournament that will decide college basketball’s national champion.
The Buckeyes finished No. 2 in the Big Ten standings during the regular season. They knocked off Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin over the weekend to capture a third Big Ten Tournament title in four years.
“I'm so proud of this basketball team and what they accomplished,” Matta said Sunday evening.
“This team has done a tremendous job of staying together."
Their reward? A No. 2-seed in the West Region, which includes Gonzaga as the weakest No. 1-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament and upstart New Mexico as a dangerous No. 3-seed. The second-seeded Buckeyes (26-7, 13-5) will face No. 15 seed Iona (20-13, 11-7 MAAC) in their opening game on Friday night (7:15 p.m. ET, CBS) just down the road in The Gem City of Ohio.
“It’s gonna feel good. My coaches are going to appreciate it because it’s not far away,” OSU junior Lenzelle Smith Jr. said.
“It’s definitely a change of scenery, but I’m just glad we got a very good seed and are able to go down there to Dayton and get our dance on.”
The Buckeyes have played three NCAA Tournament games at UD Arena, home of the Dayton Flyers, and things have not gone so well for Matta’s team in that building. Their most recent loss came at the hands of another MAAC team in Siena, which was coached by current Iowa head man Fran McCaffery back in 2009.
Ohio State scraped by 15-seed Davidson and star freshman Steph Curry as a 2-seed at UD Arena back in 2006, but they were no match for 7-seed Georgetown in the second round. Center Roy Hibbert had 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in a 70-52 win over Matta’s Buckeyes, but that doesn’t mean Ohio State’s coach is dreading a return trip.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said after the seeds were announced.
“By the time we get home, we’ll have Iona well scouted. I don’t know a lot about them right now, but I know they play very fast. We’re 1-2 over there in the NCAA tournament, so we have to change our luck, that’s for dagum sure.”
If the Buckeyes get by Iona, the No. 2-scoring team in college basketball this season at 80.7 a game, they will have a date with either 7-seed Notre Dame or 10-seed Iowa State on Sunday in Dayton.
A victory in that game would send the Buckeyes to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for a Sweet 16 matchup with whoever comes out of the other side of that bracket. The winner of 3-seed New Mexico and 14-seed Harvard will play the winner of 6-seed Arizona and 11-seed Belmont.
Ohio State would have to win two games in Los Angeles to get out of the West Region for a return trip to the Final Four in Atlanta. A number of national analysts are already projecting the Buckeyes as an early favorite to make it back.
“That’s good,” OSU junior Deshaun Thomas said.
“We were there last year. It would be great to get there again. It would be fun, great weather. I have family down there. It would be good to get back there and put on a show.”
Regardless of what happens over the next two weeks, Matta is proud of what his team has been able to accomplish after losing guys like Jared Sullinger and William Buford from their Final Four run a year ago.
“Hell yes it is. Do you know how hard that is,” Matta said when asked if it was rewarding to be a top-two seed for the sixth time in eight years.
“That’s unbelievable. The thing I’m most proud of, we’ve been at Ohio State for nine years and we set out to build a top level college basketball program.
“I think we’ve done that.”
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