Ohio State was hoping to see a gateway to the West. Instead, they'll have to settle for remembering the Alamo.
After beating Wisconsin for a second time this season, 66-49 Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament Championship, the Buckeyes finally learned of their NCAA Tournament fate. Ohio State will be the No. 1-seed in the South region in San Antonio.
Ohio State (30-3) finishes the Big Ten with its' second conference tournament title in 10 years, going 18-1 in Big Ten play. Ohio State will travel to Lexington, Ky. Thursday and Saturday against Central Connecticut and if the Buckeyes win, they will play the winner of BYU and Xavier.
Playing Xavier would touch home with Ohio State head coach Thad Matta and his assistants John Groce and Alan Major. The three of them coached at Xavier for three years before leaving for Ohio State.
"With the potential second match up we've got to take care of our first game as they do, and we'll kind of see," Matta said Sunday evening, doing his best not to look past Central Connecticut. "It's a little bit ironic, though and I think Bruce (Weber) is in the same situation and (Marquette head coach) Tom Crean and Michigan State. There was somebody else in there and we were laughing about it. It's part of it."
The Buckeyes capped off a first No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament since 1992. Ohio State made a Final Four appearance in 1999, but NCAA sanctions forced Ohio State to strike it from the record books.
Sunday in Chicago, Ohio State put the clamps down on a 17-game win streak, beating preseason favorites Wisconsin despite just 12 points and 10 rebounds from 7-1 center Greg Oden, who missed much of the first half in foul trouble or resting.
Peaking at the right time, Ohio State can turn focus to the NCAA Tournament.
"I think it helps us with our confidence, and I think it helps us with growing as a team," said senior Ron Lewis of the Big Ten Championship, who scored 17 points Sunday. "As you can see, in those three games we relied on each other, we played team basketball, and we took the negatives that teams had and made them into positives for us."
The scoring on Sunday against a tough Badger defense wasn't very diverse.
Only three players scored in double-figures for Ohio State, or scored more than 5 points for that matter. But the ones who did - Lewis, Oden and freshman point guard Mike Conley, made them count.
Conley played one of his better games all season, in a collection of standout performances, scoring 18 points, dishing out eight assists and grabbing six rebounds.
"You know, I didn't come in with as much confidence as Coach and the staff had on us as freshmen as being so young," Conley said. "They had a game plan laid out for us, what we were going to do. I'm just sitting there listening to every word he says, all right, we're going to do it, and then finally we're getting into the season and we're actually achieving some of these goals. Now we have the utmost confidence in ourselves to do what we've got to do to make a run in this tournament."
"Well, he's the key to the team," added Wisconsin guard Kammron Taylor. "He runs the show."
The talk, however, was focused on Ohio State's defensive effort.
After limiting Big Ten Player of the Year Alando Tucker to 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting on Feb. 25 in Columbus, the Buckeyes followed it up by holding him to 10 points on 4-of-13. Wisconsin also turned the ball over 17 times.
"They have always been (a good defensive team)," said head coach Bo Ryan. "There are certain things that they can do, knowing that (Greg) Oden is back there taking care of the rest."
Ohio State will play at 7:10 pm on Thursday. It's the second-consecutive NCAA appearance under third-year head coach Matta, who coached Ohio State to 20 wins in the 2004-05 season but self-imposed a postseason ban because of NCAA violations.
The Buckeyes were the third-ranked No. 1-seed according to the selection committee.
"I don't know how it works. So wherever they put us, like these guys said, we'll play whoever," Matta concluded. "I think it's exciting. We were a two seed last year, now a one seed this year. I think that hopefully says a lot about our program and where it's come in three years."