Buckeyes, Gophers Meet For Title

Ohio State has been through two battles in the last two days, but Minnesota can go one better. When the Buckeyes and Golden Gophers meet on the court this afternoon, there will be plenty at stake for both squads.

INDIANAPOLIS – Ohio State head coach Thad Matta prefers the regular season to postseason tournaments, preferring the grind of a conference schedule to the perceived randomness of a tournament matchup.

With his team set to face Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament title game (3:30 p.m., CBS), the coach is having his cake and eating it too. The Buckeyes enter the contest after going down to the wire against Michigan and then enduring double overtime before taking down Illinois.

On the other bench, however, Matta might find a team with as much claim to being tired as his own. The Golden Gophers entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed and have had to play three games to get to this point.

Today's game will mark the fourth in as many days for Minnesota.

"We've played some tough games," Gophers sophomore guard Devoe Joseph said. "Both (teams are) conditioned pretty well. We're D-1 athletes and we all take care of our bodies very well. I think everyone will come back (Sunday) and the excitement of the championship game is going to overwhelm everyone's tiredness."

The Buckeyes have talked about their desire to bring home the conference tournament trophy after having shared the league's regular-season crown with both Purdue and Michigan State. After two scares in as many days, they find themselves in the title game for the second consecutive season.

"We were in this same position last year," OSU junior guard Jon Diebler said. "Keeping that same intensity for three days, it's a grind. Like they always say, the strong survive in these tournaments because it is hard on your bodies. We're a very mature basketball team and we know what we have to do and how to come out (Sunday)."

Although the Buckeyes are playing for a trophy, the Gophers could be playing for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. As of Saturday night, ESPN's Joe Lunardi had projected Minnesota as one of the final teams to make the tournament.

The bubble is a tough place to be on Selection Sunday, and the Gophers know they have a chance to remove all doubt. The winner of the title game will capture the league's automatic postseason bid.

"You never know," Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said when asked if he felt his team would make the tournament. "The committee has a tall task ahead of them. There's a lot of good teams (and) a lot of talented players. The best way for us to get in is to win (Sunday)."

The Buckeyes are already guaranteed a shot in the tournament and figure to be playing for the chance to improve their seed. OSU likely can do no worse than a No. 2 seed but could potentially earn a No. 1 seed.

Matta said he is not aware of where his team might sit from a seeding standpoint but said he would like to bring home a top seed.

"I really believe the job they do of breaking down the teams – it's not just a crapshoot," he said. "It's pretty strategic. You hope that matchup-wise, it works out for you."

These two teams split during the regular season. Minnesota won an early-January decision by 11 points at home but took it on the chin three weeks later in Columbus. Then, a fully healthy Turner sparked the Buckeyes to an 85-63 victory.

Now more than two months removed from the win against the Buckeyes, Joseph said there is not much that can be drawn from the contest.

"It was very long ago and last time we played them they destroyed us," he said. "We're going to have to come with our best game but we've been playing some good basketball lately. If we come and execute well it'll be a good game."

Teammate Lawrence Westbrook, a senior guard, seconded Joseph's thought.

"They've had our number for a while but we're playing our best basketball right now," he said. "I've always said we have as much talent as anybody and everybody contributed (Saturday).

"We're all just playing with each other and being real positive with each other. Nobody is getting down. We're all encouraging each other and it's showing the way we're playing."

Two teams who have been through the grind of a tournament facing each other for a championship with postseason implications? It must be March.

"We worked hard to get here and things happen for a reason," OSU junior guard Evan Turner said. "I think it's all the hard work we did in the past. We paid our dues and when it comes down to it, sometimes you might get lucky."

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