Buckeye State Battle
From the moment that CBS announced that the Buckeyes would be facing Dayton in Thursday's opening round, the intrigue was immediate. "You can't duck them anymore, Thad," analyst Seth Davis shouted, referring to a OSU coach Thad Matta's reluctance to schedule in-state opponents.
Whether or not Matta's disdain for playing foes from the Buckeye State is real or exaggerated is irrelevant at this point. Ohio State has a date with Dayton whether the Buckeyes like it or not. And while Matta might not admit it, there appears to be more than just a trip to the Round of 32 on the line.
"From my perspective, because you're in the NCAA Tournament, I think people want to put tags on situations. But for us, and for Dayton, you win or you go home. There's not a whole lot more than that," Matta said.
"I'll swear to you, when the game starts, I don't know what's across the opposing team's jersey. It's more of how do I get my guys to play their best basketball? I've always been that way. I mean, I'm not going to be thinking, Gosh, this is Dayton. We're Ohio State. You're just more focused in on what do we have to do to achieve our goal."
An Ohio State transfer playing in his first season with the Flyers, Sibert is Dayton's leading scorer with a 12.5 points per game average and a 43.9 percent three-point shooting percentage. Asked about his former teammate and roommate's success down I-70 West, Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft said that he's far from shocked.
"He's done a phenomenal job of scoring the basketball. He's one of their leading scorers on the team. The way he's shooting the ball, he's done a good job of not being one dimensional," Craft said. "We've seen him in the spring and the summer, and we've been through the battles with him. So it's not a huge surprise to us to see him being so successful."
As for Sibert, the Cincinnati native downplayed his meeting with his former team. But he also admitted to have some extra motivation heading into Thursday as he aims to prove that he's worth the minutes that he didn't receive in Columbus.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't like I'm not hyped about the game. Playing against your friends and going against people who you've grown up with is definitely, definitely something to be excited about," Sibert said. "I definitely have a big chip on my shoulder."
While the premiere storylines exist on the perimeter, the play in the paint could be equally as important in Thursday's opening round. The Flyers possess a formidable post presence with forwards Devin Oliver and Dyshawn Pierre, which could mean that the Buckeyes will need a big day from center Amir Williams.
"They set a lot of ball screens. Some of their guys pick and pop and you gotta know which guys may pick and pop and which guys may pick and roll," Williams said. "I gotta be in the right spot at the right time and have rotations correct."
Like Williams, Matta sees more than just a perimeter-oriented squad when he looks at the Flyers.
"They're deep," the Buckeyes head coach stated. "Defensively, they're a very typical Big Ten team. They're physical down in the paint. They feel like they can foul because they have some backups."
Sense Of Urgency
As we saw at the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes seem to play best with their backs against the wall. Ohio State overcame an 18-point deficit against Nebraska in the quarterfinals and a 16-point lead by Michigan, only to fall to the Wolverines in the tournament's semifinals.
Whether that trend will bode well for the Buckeyes in the NCAA Tournament remains to be seen. But it's safe to say that Ohio State can't be counted out of any game, no matter how many points it gets behind.
"We have to be as dialed in as we possibly can," Matta said. "Having that 40 minutes of consistency is paramount for this group. As we told them, you're not going to play perfect, but win anyway."
Magic Of March
Beyond the external storylines and connections, one constant remains: March Madness is finally here.
That may mean different things to different people, but inside of the Ohio State locker room, the excitement is palpable. After the grind that was the Big Ten season for the Buckeyes, the payoff is finally here and OSU is hopeful that its experience can help elongate its enjoyment.
"We've been here before and we know how to play in those tough situations," forward LaQuinton Ross said. "It's just that time of the year again. I know what's at stake."