The Bearcats, the No. 6 seed, own a 2-0 all-time record against the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes in NCAA Tournament play, but the state of Ohio's two major conference teams have not played in such a setting since 1962. Both of the previous meetings resulted in Cincinnati knocking off favored Ohio State teams to bring home the national championship.
The first came in 1961 when the Bearcats used a dynamic defensive game plan to battle the top-ranked Buckeyes to a 61-all tie in regulation before knocking off the defending champions in overtime by a final of 70-65.
Jerry Lucas, Ohio State's All-America center and the national player of the year, scored 27 points, but only guard Larry Siegfried joined him in double figures with 14. Meanwhile, four Bearcats scored in double figures, led by forward Bob Wiesenhahn's 17 points, and Cincinnati took home from Kansas City the national championship trophy under the guidance of first-year head coach Ed Jucker.
With the bulk of its team returning as seniors, Ohio State was ranked No. 1 throughout the following season but again met its match against the Bearcats in the championship game.
This time, the venue was Louisville and the result was a more decisive 71-59 Bearcats victory that Jucker hoped would prove to the nation his first team's triumph had not been a fluke.
Again, four Cincinnati players reached double figures in scoring, this time led by star center Paul Hogue's 22. Guards Thom Thacker and Tony Yates had 21 and 12, respectively, while forward Ron Bonham added 10.
Lucas managed only 11 points in the rematch as he tried to play through a knee injury suffered in the national semifinal victory over Wake Forest. Ohio State also got 15 points from center Gary Bradds and 11 from forward John Havlicek.
The two games riled up plenty of passion from fans on both sides, and they were certainly not lacking for star power.
Lucas was a three-time All-American, three-time Big Ten Most Valuable Player and two-time National Player of the Year. He set a new Big Ten's single-season rebounding record in each of his three seasons and finished his career with a conference-best 1,411 boards to set a standard that has never been challenged in the 50 years since. He went on to a play 11 years in the NBA and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50 all-time greatest players.
Havlicek was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and played 16 years in the NBA, where he won eight championships and made 13 All-Star teams. He became the first player to score at least 1,000 points in 16 consecutive years and remains the all-time leading scorer in Boston Celtics history. Havlicek is also a member of the Naismith HOF and the NBA's 50th year anniversary team like Lucas.
Siegfried was an All-Big Ten selection in '61 and joined Havlicek on five of his NBA championship seasons in Boston.
Bradds followed Lucas as the man in the middle for the Buckeyes and earned two more Big Ten MVP awards while also being named National Player of the Year in 1964.
As for the Bearcats, Hogue was named the Most Outstanding Player of the '62 Final Four and was a first-team All-American. Yates, Bonham, Weisenhahn and Thacker all earned All-America recognition as well.
The teams have played once since then, a 72-50 blowout for fourth-ranked Ohio State over unranked Cincinnati played in Indianapolis as part of the Wooden Tradition on Dec. 16, 2006.
The programs were headed in different directions at that point with the Buckeyes bound for that season's Final Four and the Bearcats still reeling from the firing of head coach Bob Huggins. In its first year under head coach Mick Cronin, Cincinnati skidded to a final record of 11-19 and won only two of 16 Big East games. At the time, Cronin openly questioned why the teams played at that time after the series was dormant for so long.
"They caught us when we were down," he told reporters. "I got a contract after Coach Huggins got fired and it was obvious we were going to be in a depleted state. I left it in my AD's hands to make overtures, but I'm not going to beat a dead horse with it. Cincinnati basketball has had great tradition and it's been quite successful since 1962, so if they don't want to play us why would they elect to schedule the game at this point?"
After his team qualified for the regional semifinal matchup with Ohio State in this year's tournament by beating No. 3 seed Florida State 62-56 on March 18, Cronin had little specific to say about his upcoming opponent. "I have great respect for their program," he said. "Other than that, they're the next team we play."
Ohio State leads the all-time series 5-4 with the teams first meeting in 1905. The Buckeyes took that contest by a 43-6 score.