Last season's national runners-up, the Buckeyes did not hear their names called on Selection Sunday to take part in the Big Dance that is the NCAA Tournament. Instead, OSU had to wait an extra three hours until the brackets for the 2008 MasterCard NIT were announced.
Now the Buckeyes have a chance to take home a different title. OSU was announced as the No. 1 seed in the NIT and will face off against No. 8 seed UNC Asheville in a game televised by ESPN.
"In postseason play every team is a quality opponent," OSU head coach Thad Matta said in a statement. "UNC Asheville will be another difficult test for our basketball team. We are fortunate to keep playing and have another chance to play on our home court at Value City Arena. Like always, we hope our fans support us like they have all season."
As the top seed, the Buckeyes will have the chance to host the first three rounds of the tournament should they keep winning. Game one tips off Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Although they admitted to obvious disappointment at not making it to the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes are not turning their noses up at an NIT invitation.
"We've just got to be ready to go," senior guard Jamar Butler said. "There's still some tough teams in the NIT. We'll try to make it a positive and try to win the NIT."
Two other Ohio teams are in OSU's bracket. Should the Buckeyes advance to the quarterfinals, they could square off against No. 3 seed Dayton or No. 6 seed Cleveland State. OSU defeated the Vikings 80-63 earlier this season in a neutral-site game.
Matta listed benefits such as getting more practices, more game experiences and more chances to go through scouting preparation as positives that come out of simply qualifying for postseason play, regardless of which tournament a team qualifies for.
"It's not the NIT of old," he said. "You're going to play some more great basketball teams."
The final four teams will meet in Madison Square Garden on April 1 to play for the championship. The Buckeyes played there earlier this season when they took part in the NIT Season Tip-Off, defeating Syracuse but falling to Texas A&M in the championship game.
Should OSU advance that far, they could earn a rematch in the title game with the Florida Gators, the team that defeated them one season ago in the NCAA Tournament. This year marks the first time since 1980 that the two teams who advanced to the national championship game did not qualify for the tournament the following season.
To get there, though, they must defeat the Bulldogs.
"We are very excited about being in the NIT and this is a tremendous opportunity for our young men to play a team as rich in tradition as Ohio State," UNC Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach said. "We were a little disappointed in losing the Big South Conference championship game (a 66-48 loss at home to Winthrop last Saturday) but we're excited about getting into the nation's oldest post-season tournament.
"I've always had tremendous respect for Thad Matta. He's a great coach and does a super job coaching. We know we're in for a very tough game on Tuesday but we're looking forward to playing Ohio State."
Following the team's loss to Michigan State during the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, OSU was forced to sit and ponder its postseason fate. Ultimately, a road ledger that saw them achieve just one win against the top 100 teams in the country – the aforementioned victory against CSU – proved to be their undoing.
Now a senior class with 100 career victories finds itself playing in the second-best tournament and trying to salvage some pride in a 19-13 overall record to this point.
"We can prove that we're a good team, that we are just as good as some of the other teams that were put in front of us in the tournament," senior Matt Terwilliger said. "I think we make a run here, we'll prove that."
Terwilliger likened it to simply preparing for another regular-season game, adding that he feels his teammates will be mentally prepared to play.
As Butler put it, there are still teams out that would gladly be in OSU's shoes.
"We're fortunate enough to be able to play in the NIT," he said. "Some teams are done. Their seasons are over with. They can't play until next year. We'll try to make the most of it and try to win it."