As Ohio's premiere basketball program, what do the Buckeyes have to gain by giving a platform to a lesser opponent looking to make a splash right down the road? An Ohio State win would be expected and a loss would perceived as embarrassing. The Buckeyes have nothing to gain and everything to lose when it comes to in-state foes.
But when Thad Matta saw that his sixth-seeded Ohio State (25-9, 10-8) squad drew No. 11-seed Dayton (23-10, 10-6) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, none of those negatives ran through his mind. Rather, the Buckeyes head coach saw an opponent who he knew his team would not overlook.
"I think for this team, it's a great thing," Matta said of Ohio State being paired with the Flyers. "I like that because there won't need to be a wakeup call. There won't need to be a, ‘Who is this? Who are they? What conference are they in? I haven't heard of that guy' or anything like that."
Like it is in Columbus, Matta's influence is apparent in the Dayton program.
Flyers head coach Archie Miller served as an assistant under Matta from 2007-2008 and has maintained a relationship with his former employer ever since. Matta himself is no stranger to facing members of his impressive coaching tree, as he has twice squared off with Miller's brother -- former Xavier and current Arizona head coach Sean Miller -- in The Big Dance.
"We talk all the time," Matta said of his relationship with the third-year Dayton head coach. "It's sort of like playing Arizona last year. He knows a lot about my team, I know a lot about his team."
Miller won't be the only familiar face Matta sees on the Flyers sideline in Buffalo on Thursday. Two years after opting to transfer from the Ohio State program, junior guard Jordan Sibert has put together an impressive season for Dayton, leading the Flyers with 12.5 points per game and a 43.9 shooting percentage from beyond the three-point arc.
According to Matta, Sibert's departure from Columbus came as a result of the former four-star guard looking for more playing time than he received in a sophomore season that saw him average 11.4 minutes per game. A team that has struggled from long-distance, the Buckeyes sure seem like they could use Sibert's sharpshooting this year, although Matta noted that ‘what ifs' like that never cross his mind.
"When he left he just said, ‘I want to play a lot.' He's definitely getting to do that," Matta said. "He's having a great career there. I'm one of these guys that as long as everybody's happy in terms of where they are in what they're doing, I'm happy for them."
Having arrived in Columbus alongside Sibert in 2010, OSU guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said that he imagines that there will be extra motivation for the former Buckeye in his matchup with his former team. But as is the case with every team this time of year, Ohio State won't be without some motivation of its own.
"Trying to put myself in his shoes, absolutely," Smith said when asked if he thought Sibert would have an extra edge to him against the Buckeyes. "At the same time, we're both in the same boat. You lose and you go home. I think we'll both be jacked up for the same purposes."
If the Buckeyes can fight past the Flyers, they'll advance to the round of 32 and face the winner of Thursday's contest between No. 4 seed Syracuse and No. 14 Western Michigan. On paper, the Orange's stout zone defense would appear to be a matchup nightmare for shooting-challenged Ohio State, but the Buckeyes first have to prevent Dayton from putting a dent in their status in the Buckeye State.
"I just hope we see it," Matta said of a potential showdown with Syracuse. "The fact that we're playing a team an hour away, five hours away, that's kind of irrelevant to me."