It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

The Ohio State men's basketball team has been through its fair share of trials and tribulations throughout the 2013-14 season. But after a wait that may have seemed longer than it actually was, March Madness is finally here and the Buckeyes couldn't be more excited.

All of the Jordan Sibert storylines. All of the talk about the in-state rivalry. All of the up and down nature of the 2013-14 season.

All of it falls secondary for the Ohio State basketball team.

Because after four long months -- some that likely seemed longer than others -- March Madness is finally here. And for a Buckeyes squad that has been through plenty of trials and tribulations throughout the past season, sixth-seeded Ohio State (25-9, 10-8) couldn't be any more excited to kickoff The Big Dance against No. 11 seed Dayton (23-10, 10-6) at 12:15 PM today (CBS).

"It's one of the best times of the year," OSU center Amir Williams said. "It's an amazing time."

Given their recent postseason runs, the Buckeyes have plenty of reasons to believe as much.

There are only three players on the Ohio State roster who haven't been to the Final Four and seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. have three Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights and their 2012 trip to the national semifinals under their belt. For what it's worth, the Buckeyes believe that their experience will pay dividends for them in one way or another.

"It helps a lot, just knowing what the routine is, being able to know when you have to concentrate and get things done," Craft said. "Lenzelle and I have been here for four years now. Just because we've had a little bit of success before doesn't necessarily mean we'll have success now, but I think it helps us prepare ourselves mentally for what the NCAA Tournament means and what it's about."

One player who saw his game mature last March was Buckeyes forward LaQuinton Ross. The then-sophomore averaged 15 points per game throughout Ohio State's run to the Elite Eight, hitting the game-winning three-pointer to advance the Buckeyes past Arizona in the Sweet 16.

A highly touted prospect byway of Life Center Academy in New Jersey, Ross came into his own last spring. The 6-8, 220-pounder has also been hitting his stride this season, having scored 19 points in each of OSU's past six games.

"It's just that time of the year again," OSU forward LaQuinton Ross said. "It's that time of the year when the best players gotta step up."

Asked about the mood inside Buckeyes practice this week, Ross admitted to there being increased anticipation. But he also said that Ohio State's experience has allowed for a sense of normalcy inside of its locker room.

"It was amped, but it was relaxed at the same time," Ross said of his team's week of practice heading into Thursday's opening round. "We got a lot of guys that have been in these situations before. We have two freshmen and they're the only ones who don't know what's about to go on at this point."

With fellow freshman Kam Williams redshirting, forward Marc Loving is the Buckeyes' lone freshman preparing to experience his first taste of March Madness. A native of Toledo, Ohio, Loving has been dreaming of today since he was a child in the Glass City.

"It's definitely a very exciting moment getting ready for your first NCAA Tournament game," Loving said. "I just gotta take a deep breath and focus because it is still basketball. Lace your shoes up and play as hard as you possibly can."

The experience may be new for Loving, but that makes him an outlier on the Ohio State roster. The excitement may remain high, but it's nothing new for the Buckeyes who are hopeful that this March will be similar to the others that they have enjoyed.

"It's a one-game season. Nobody wants to go home the first, second week of March," Williams said. "We know we got guys with experience, guys who have played in big games before. We know what it takes to get to the Final Four."

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