OSU Hopes To Get Past Sweet Barrier

The Ohio State basketball has been to the last three Sweet 16s, an accomplishment only the Buckeyes and Kentucky have accomplished. Thad Matta has made progress with the program, but tonight's game against Cincinnati isn't about progress. It's about overcoming the recent past and advancing deeper in the NCAA Tournament.

If Thad Matta looks at the results of each of the last three seasons, Ohio State's head coach sees a program that's in perhaps one of the best places in college basketball. Comparing it to where the Buckeyes were a decade ago isn't even worth doing.

Ohio State, after all, is only one of two teams – the other being Kentucky – to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 each of the past three seasons.

"That's obviously a heck of an accomplishment when you think there are 345 Division I teams," Matta said Tuesday before his second-seeded Buckeyes traveled to Boston to face No. 6 Cincinnati in the TD Garden on Thursday night. "Being in this situation is great, but being complacent or satisfied is something that we don't want to do."

Getting to this point in the season has been rather common for the Buckeyes. Getting past the Sweet 16, at least in the last two seasons, has been rather bitter.

In 2010, the second-seeded Buckeyes lost to sixth-seeded Tennessee in the Sweet 16. Last year, as the No. 1 overall seed, Ohio State fell in the same round to fourth-seeded Kentucky.

Ohio State has seen progress under Matta. The team has gone to the Sweet 16 four times in the last seven years after making only three in the previous 20 before Matta.

But after the last two years, it isn't about progress anymore. It's about not letting the recent fate happen again. Whether history will repeat itself will be decided in hours when the Buckeyes (29-7) take the hardwood against the Bearcats (26-10).

"Our youth – that's why we think we'll have different results," junior transfer Evan Ravenel told BSB.

That goes against conventional wisdom given youth and inexperience are typically viewed as weaknesses come tournament time.

Last year's team was perhaps the best in college basketball because it wasn't plagued by youth. Senior leaders such as David Lighty and Jon Diebler were the foundation that supported an ultra-talented team that didn't have the limitations most opposing squads had to fight hard to overcome.

"This team is different from last year," OSU assistant coach Jeff Boals told BSB. "Last year's team was dominating. I don't think we're that dominating this year."

Conventional wisdom again doesn't apply. Last year Ohio State lost only two regular-season games before entering the NCAA Tournament as the consensus favorite to win the whole thing.

Dominating, most would think, would lend itself well to winning a national championship.

It didn't. Throw conventional wisdom out the window.

"We were dominating when we went into the Kentucky game, which was a close game, but we lost by two after not shooting well," Boals said. "This team has been in some close games. If you look at this season, they've been in close situations where they needed to grind out wins. This team has grown from those experiences."

Two months ago, Ohio State fit the perfect profile for an early-tournament burnout. It was losing games, its star players were admitting publicly to not playing together, and a Big Ten regular-season championship was in question.

It was a far cry from the expectations to start the year – an uncontested route to the regular-season conference crown being one of them – and Ohio State was largely in shambles.

Then the Buckeyes won two games in the final week of their regular season on their final possession. That included a Big Ten title-clinching victory at Michigan State when senior William Buford buried a shot from near the top of the arc in the final seconds to lift the Buckeyes to a gritty road win.

That shot meant everything to this team, and it goes so much further than the hardware sitting in a trophy case in Value City Arena. It was wins like that Ohio State went without last year.

"Last year was the best team in the country and should have won a national championship," Ravenel said. "This team has had to work a little harder for things because of our age and immaturity and our inexperience with things. I think having had to battle in different ways could make us more ready to keep advancing."

Ohio State entered this year's NCAA Tournament with five more losses than it suffered a year ago. It is 40 minutes of basketball away from accomplishing only one other team under Matta has.

"We have the opportunity to do something great," William Buford told BSB. "I don't ever want to lose that opportunity before accomplishing that."

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