When Ohio State and Cincinnati tip-off from Conseco Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon in the Wooden Tradition, they will be doing so for the first time in over 44 years. Thad Matta is making his own history in the Ohio State record books.
Meanwhile, Mick Cronin has already indirectly been apart of it.
If you're looking for a good reason why the Bearcats and Buckeyes haven't played in nearly a half-decade, there isn't one. If you're looking for several reasons, they're plentiful.
Ohio State (8-1) and Cincinnati (7-2) meet for just the ninth time in their long histories. The two teams have split the first eight games at four apiece, but this will be the first renewal since March 24, 1962 when the Bearcats defeated the Buckeyes for a second consecutive season. That meeting was a 71-59 Cincinnati victory in the National Championship game.
But why haven't the two teams played since then?
That's a loaded question says Lee Caryer, author of The Golden Age of Ohio State Basketball, a book devoted to the Buckeye basketball program from 1960-1971.
"As far as Ohio State was concerned, they didn't think that Cincinnati had the same recruiting rules that Ohio State did (in the early 1960's)," Caryer said. "Cincinnati had a co-op program. They (Ohio State) kind of thought the co-op program allowed people in that didn't belong in college. They also kind of thought the recruiting scales were a bit tipped (in Cincinnati's favor). They were also mad about losing the two games to Cincinnati."
Over the years, the anger naturally died down a bit. However, that doesn't explain why the two teams didn't begin playing some 20 or 30 years later.
"As for the modern day politics," added Caryer, "as to what Gary Williams was wanting to do or who Jim O'Brien wanted to play, I really don't have anything to add to that. I've heard a lot of conjecture and I've heard a lot of things as to why they weren't playing each other, but I don't know what's true."
Since the 1990's, there have been several possible explanations for why Cincinnati and Ohio State have not met on the hardwood.
Among the many rumors as possible contributing factors: Bob Huggins being a former Ohio State assistant; His reported graduation rate and persona having displeased former OSU Athletic Director Andy Geiger; Allegations of Cincinnati's involvement in the Damon Flint recruitment; O'Brien not wanting to risk his program being seen as second-fiddle in Ohio to Cincinnati and likely many other possible reasons that have never surfaced.
Huggins and Geiger reportedly flirted a bit in 1997 about the Ohio State opening, a job that Huggins would have loved to accept.
"I heard from enough sources to know it's true that Geiger refused to consider Bob Huggins as head coach," Caryer said.
The 1993 Flint ordeal is another source of bad blood for the two schools.
The 6-3 Flint, a guard from Cincinnati Woodward, was committed and signed to play for the Buckeyes in high school. However, it was later discovered that as a junior, Flint had been improperly induced with a meal, gym bag and an off-campus visit at a local restraunt.
According to published NCAA infractions reports, Flint was joined by an unnamed high school coach. The junior varsity coach and a varsity assistant coach at that time was Cronin, a young energetic up-and-comer who was still finishing his undergraduate degree at Cincinnati. Although it's not believed that Cronin was the coach with Flint on his visit, it's likely he knew about the inducements.
Cronin was added to the Cincinnati coaching staff the following season as a video coordinator. Then in 1997, he was added as a full-time assistant on Huggins' staff.
The NCAA report states that they first learned of the infractions after an anonymous phone call provided details of the improper inducements and off-campus recruiting on October 12, 1992.
"It's been widely believed that Cronin is the guy that tipped off Cincinnati about it," said a source wishing not to be identified.
Flint was ruled unable to play for Ohio State and wound up at Cincinnati instead.
Even if Cronin had anything to do with the Flint ordeal, he was not responsible for most of the past four decades and played a very small role in a much larger set of circumstances spanning many years. And even if he did have anything to do with the disclosure to Cincinnati or the NCAA, it was Ohio State that committed the violations - not Cronin.
Regardless of his involvement, he was caught in the crosshairs of a minor incident that refueled a bit of unrest between two programs seperated by just 100 miles.
"Being a part of the Wooden Tradition is an honor," he was quoted as saying this week in the Cincinnati Enquirer, "but I don't understand why we haven't played in the regular season in 44 years."
Even before 1961 and 62, there was already some stirred up emotions between the two teams.
"There was a little bit of distance (before that)," said Caryer. "They almost played a game in 1960 but there was a cancellation and I'm not sure why. That was Oscar's (Robertson) senior year and it would have been (Jerry) Lucas' sophomore season."
After 1961, the emotion was too much for graduating Buckeye Larry Siegfried.
In the 1961 NBA Draft, Siegfried was taken as the No. 3 pick by the Cincinnati Royals. Lucas had been drafted in the territorial draft just three years prior as a high school senior in Middletown, Ohio.
"He did get drafted No. 3 but he refused to sign with them because he was hurting so bad from losing in overtime to the Bearcats his senior season in 1961," Caryer said. "He went on to play for Cleveland, owned by George Steinbrenner, in the American Basketball Association which folded - then his rights reverted back to Cincinnati. He still wouldn't play there."
After getting a recommendation from former Ohio State teammate John Havilicek in Boston, Siegfriend wound up playing for the Celtics.
Former Ohio State standout Al Rowley, a starter from 1965-67, also knew first hand the animosity of the two clubs. His parents had such disdain for Cincinnati as a high school player at Marion (Ohio) Harding that when the Bearcats called to recruit Rowley, his parents would tell them he was out with friends or they wouldn't tell their son Cincinnati called.
But the animosity wasn't completely one-sided.
In 1961, Ohio Governor Michael De Salle made a proclamation that Ohio State head coach Fred Taylor was an All-American coach. He stated that Ohio State wasn an All-American team and the individuals were All-Americans of the century.
Then Cincinnati beat Ohio State in the National Championship later that year. De Salle sent letters of congratulations to Cincinnati, which was the extent of their publicity from the governor.
"Members of the Bearcat Club wanted him impeached as governor," said Caryer. "The UC students hung him in effigy."
When the two teams finally collide Saturday, it will be a little piece of history. The two programs are so close together, yet so far apart.
In spite of both coaches saying all the right things, and acting the right way about the prospective series, no one seems willing to guarantee whether the two schools could meet as soon as next year or if it might be another 44 years before another meeting occurs.
They each have their own little stake in the rivalry for now. But all that history won't be going away any time soon.
For now, it's just that - history.