Top-seeded Buckeyes Set Sights On Tournament

The nation was tuned in to watch as Ohio State was announced as the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, but Dallas Lauderdale only needed to see a moment of the show before attending to a more pressing need. Read on for more.

There was little suspense for No. 1 Ohio State after following up an outright Big Ten title with a conference championship as well. With a top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament all but assured, the Buckeyes sat inside Conseco Fieldhouse and watched the selection show along with the rest of the nation.

They did not have to wait long. OSU was quickly announced as the overall No. 1 seed and Dallas Lauderdale did not care to see another second of the broadcast. The senior forward rose from his seat and immediately sought out the post-game meal as the rest of the bracket was unveiled.

There would be plenty of time to worry about who stands in between the Buckeyes and their first national championship since 1960. For now, food took top priority.

"I didn't pay any attention," Lauderdale said. "I saw that we have the play-in game and that's what we're focused on right now."

With that, the Buckeyes begin what they hope will be a march to the national championship game in Houston. After putting together a 32-2 record, OSU will open tournament play Friday in Cleveland against an as-yet unknown foe. The Buckeyes will face the winner of a play-in game between Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State this Wednesday in Dayton.

Texas-San Antonio compiled a 19-13 record and won the Southland Conference tournament to clinch an NCAA Tournament bid. Alabama State went 17-17 and won the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.

Before the Big Ten tournament got underway, OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger said he wanted to add a new piece of hardware to head coach Thad Matta's trophy case. With that mission complete, the most outstanding player of the tournament said his next goal does not immediately turn toward hoisting the national championship trophy.

"The next goal is to win against Alabama State and Texas-San Antonio," he said. "We've got to stay focused on the task at hand and when they play. It's a one-game season at this point."

That is a lesson in which most of this group of Buckeyes is well-versed. Fifth-year senior forward David Lighty was a freshman when OSU advanced to the 2006-07 national championship game before losing to Florida. Since then, the Buckeyes have captured an NIT crown, lost a first-round game and dropped a Sweet 16 contest in each subsequent year.

That team from Lighty's freshmen season spent much of the year atop the national polls. The same goes for this year's team, but the 2006-07 team did not earn the top overall ranking going into the tournament.

"Supposedly it's the best way to get to the national championship, so anything that can help us is good," Lighty said. "We try not to give too much thought to it but I thought that with the body of work that we had from the season and what we did in our conference tournament, I thought that we had a strong case to be up there as No. 1."

The Buckeyes returned all but one player from last year's team, but the player they lost was a crucial one: national player of the year Evan Turner. An experienced group of players including senior guard Jon Diebler, junior guard William Buford and Lighty and Lauderdale added a freshman class boasting two players who would go on to earn all-conference honors: Aaron Craft and Sullinger.

Lauderdale said it was fair to wonder if the team would be capable of earning the top seed when the freshmen arrived in Columbus.

"If you would have said that we would have been the No. 1 overall seed in the beginning of the season I probably would have said you were lying," he said. "I definitely didn't expect us to (bond) this well at this time in the season, but with the young guys coming in and the age difference we have, somehow we made it work. That's a credit to the leadership we have that pulled the freshmen along."

Being the top overall seed does not add any further pressure, Diebler said.

"A lot of people have been asking that throughout the year," he said. "We've been at the top of the rankings for most of the year. We're a very close group and we really trust the coaches and believe in our system. As long as we stay close, we'll be all right."

With Kansas having Sunday after earning a Big 12 championship, the Buckeyes were thought to need to defeat Penn State in order to hold the Jayhawks off atop the seedings. Lauderdale said the team did not approach the situation in that way.

"I was really worried about Penn State and what they had to bring," he said. "I was worried about today. I wasn't worried about Selection Sunday yet. Obviously I'm happy that we have the No. 1 overall seed but it is what it is. Now we have to go down to Cleveland and play Ohio State basketball."

OSU enters the tournament riding a seven-game winning streak. They face an East Region bracket that includes tradition powers North Carolina (No. 2 seed), Syracuse (No. 3), Kentucky (No. 4) and in-state foe Xavier (No. 6).

When it came time to discuss the potential pairings down the road, Lighty used the Lauderdale excuse.

"I really didn't even look at that," he said. "I started getting food. I looked at who we were playing (first). We'll see what happens."


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