Ohio State, Memphis Eyeing Final Four

Wanted: an all-expense paid trip to the Georgia Dome next weekend in Atlanta, Ga. Seeking successful basketball team from San Antonio to advance this afternoon at 4:40 pm eastern for the right to play in the Final Four and use up this rare opportunity. Ohio State hopes to knock off Memphis and return to the Final Four for the first time since 1999, and officially, the first time since 1968.

They say most every National Championship run in the NCAA Tournament includes an improbable victory - a win that took the team to the limits physically and mentally.

If Ohio State is to advance to the Final Four next weekend in Atlanta, the Buckeyes will have at least two of those games under their belts.

This afternoon at 4:40 pm eastern, Ohio State (33-3) puts a 20-game win streak on the line against Memphis in the Elite Eight. Memphis (31-3) is riding a 25-game win streak in their own right and is the last thing standing between the Buckeyes and a first Final Four appearance since 1968.

The reason Ohio State is even in the position of a trip to Atlanta is because of an unlikely comeback against Tennessee Thursday evening that saw the Buckeyes rally from 20 points down just a minute before halftime. The Buckeyes outscored the Volunteers 53-35 in the second half for an 85-84 win.

It was the second close call of its kind for Ohio State.

Ohio State had already escaped overtime against in-state Xavier last Saturday in Lexington, thanks in part to a clutch three-pointer by Ron Lewis that sent the game into overtime. Lewis continued his heroics against the Volunteers, hitting shot after shot for a game-high 25 points.

The Buckeyes' last Final Four run, a magical stint as a 4-seed in 1999 to St. Petersburg, was wiped out in the wake of NCAA sanctions for using an ineligible player. The Buckeyes were also among the final eight teams in 1992 when they were tripped up in overtime against rival Michigan in Lexington.

Just one step away from the Big stage, not even Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has had time to think about what's at stake.

"My wife asked me the other day, I came in the room for about 10 minutes, 'hey, do you want to go take a walk on the riverwalk?'" he recalled being asked by his wife. "And I guess my look answered the question for me because she then apologized for asking the question."

With a win against Memphis, Ohio State could do its part to make history.

In three of the four regional final matchups, a one seed will be playing a two seed this weekend. In the fourth, one-seeded Florida will face three-seed Oregon. It's the first time seven of the eight one and two seeds have advanced to the Elite Eight and if all four ones advance, it will also be the first time ever they've all played in the Final Four.

While all of Matta's focus is on Memphis, some people are keeping an eye on Lexington - a place the Buckeyes played last weekend.

With Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith accepting a position at Minnesota, both Matta and Memphis coach John Calipari has been linked as possible replacements for Kentucky. The biggest speculation has centered around Florida coach Billy Donovan.

If Matta is interested, which most people believe he's not, then he didn't leave the door open too far Friday when asked about it.

"No, all I want to do is beat Memphis," he said in response to whether he's thought about it. "I think the great thing that I've enjoyed is I love the path we're on to what we set out to do at Ohio State when we came here. And that was to build a championship caliber basketball team. In three years we won two Big Ten championships, we've been the 2 seed and 1 seed in this tournament. I love where we are in regards to recruiting."

Asked whether he would talk to Kentucky if they called he said, "no."

Standing in Ohio State's way for a trip to the Final Four, Memphis is a deep, athletic basketball team that has talent at most every position.

The Tigers are led by sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, a guy Ohio State recruited briefly out of Detroit Northwestern. Douglas-Roberts averages a team-high 15.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Jeremy Hunt, a 38 percent three-point shooter, averages 13.5 points per game as the second and only other player in double-figures for Memphis.

But the biggest challenge of all, literally and figuratively speaking, may be Joey Dorsey.

Dorsey, a 6-9 junior forward and Robert Dozier, a 6-9 sophomore are both strong and physical. Dorsey specifically averages 8.7 points and 9.7 rebounds a game - which will put pressure on 7-1 center Greg Oden for Ohio State, who has found himself in foul trouble in each of the past two games.

"This is a big challenge for me," he said of playing Oden. "I think right now I'm No. 7th in the nation of rebounding, and I don't know where Greg Oden is. I'm going to try to beat him on the offensive end, and keeping him out of the lane."

The recent games for Ohio State have been reminiscent of 2002 football memories, when a team continued to defy the odds time and again en route to an undefeated National Championship season.

Much of the recent success has been based on the re-emergence of Lewis.

The senior has averaged 21 points per game in the tournament and has carried Ohio State since the Big Ten Tournament. Lewis went from floundering around mid-season to one of the most potent scorers in the country.

"One of the things we talk about in our program, the more you give the more that will come back to you," Matta noted. "And probably about a month ago I started to notice Ron really taking personal leadership responsibility and the little things that he's done in time outs or in the locker room or in practice has been tremendous. And I think that he's really reaping the rewards of giving and receiving."

Eight years ago, it was transfer James "Scoonie" Penn that led Ohio State to the Final Four. Today, Matta is hoping Lewis can get Ohio State to the promise land.

By all accounts, Lewis, freshman point guard Mike Conley, Jamar Butler, Oden and the rest of the Buckeye squad has grown together.

"As the year went on we grew as a team," Conley added. "We were able to stick together and not drift apart in those times that we really need to be together. It's definitely helped us out in the last two games with Xavier and Tennessee."

Perhaps that growth is why Ohio State is still alive. Just don't tell them they were only supposed to win one of those games.

Now they're hoping to be rewarded with a Final Four appearance.


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