Ohio State Ready To Dance

Shortly after capturing a Big Ten tournament championship, Ohio State learned its postseason fate. The second-seeded Buckeyes will face a tough road in their battle to make it back to the Final Four for the second time in four years, but immediately after the game they downplayed the challenges that loom ahead.

INDIANAPOLIS – Ohio State has made the NCAA Tournament, but the road to the Final Four will be paved with potholes and a few landmines.

With hopes of landing a No. 1 seed with a victory in the Big Ten tournament title game, the Buckeyes brought home a trophy but not a top seed. Instead, OSU was awarded a No. 2 seed in the Midwest bracket and a first-round matchup with UC Santa Barbara, the champion from the Big West.

That is the good news. The bad news is that a trip to the Final Four could require victories against Georgetown – the No. 3 seed in the bracket – and then overall top seed Kansas.

In their locker room at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Buckeyes professed not to care who stood in their path back to Indianapolis – site of this year's Final Four.

"There's going to be a lot of good challenges," junior guard Evan Turner, the most outstanding player in the conference tournament, said. "It's March. Every game is going to be tough. Nobody wants to go home and lose. It's a lot of peoples' last game around the country. Nobody wants that to happen. I'm looking forward to some great games."

The Bulldogs finished 23-10 overall and tied for seventh in a deep Big East with a 10-8 record, while the Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular season and conference tournament with a 32-2 overall record.

First up, however, are the Gauchos, who went 20-9 this season. Head coach Thad Matta said the OSU coaches would watch film on their first-round opponent on the bus ride back to Columbus, while the players professed to know next to nothing about UCSB.

"Honestly, it didn't really matter because every team in the tournament is good," junior guard Jon Diebler said. "That's why they're in the tournament. I think just having the mind-set of we've got to come out focused for one game at a time and can't take anybody lightly. We slipped up last year, so we have to learn from that and come out and get better in practice."

Saturday, Matta said he hoped that his team would bring home a No. 1 seed. Those honors went to Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse instead. Asked if he was disappointed in that fact, the coach said, "No, because you can't change. A two is fine. What's the difference? I'm sure there is (one), but you've got to go in and play good basketball."

Likewise, junior center Dallas Lauderdale downplayed the significance both of not landing a No. 1 seed and on improving from last year's No. 8 seed.

"I don't know (that it matters) because everybody is good in the NCAA (Tournament)," he said. "I don't know what the seed is. The seed is just what you get because of your record. Everybody is good."

The Buckeyes are making their second appearance in the tournament in as many years, but junior forward David Lighty is the only scholarship player who was on the roster the last time they won an NCAA Tournament game. That was back in the 2006-07 season when Lighty was a freshman.

Since then, OSU has captured an NIT title and dropped a first-round decision to Siena one year ago. In the process, Turner has developed into the Big Ten player of the year and the Buckeyes have improved their stock in the tournament.

They still do not have a recent win, however.

"It seems kind of weird so we'll have to take care of that," Turner said.

Sunday afternoon against a tired Minnesota team, the Buckeyes showed how dangerous they can be when they are hitting on all cylinders. OSU took what had been a nip-and-tuck affair and blew the doors off the arena with a 23-5 second-half run that keyed a 90-61 victory in the title game.

The Buckeyes did so by relying on the six-man rotation that has carried them this far, not substitution for their starters until the final minute and a half of the game. Afterward, the players professed to not feeling the effects of fatigue – or at least compared to the Golden Gophers, who were playing their fourth game in as many days.

Rested or not and regardless of who is suited up on the other bench, Turner re-affirmed his faith in what this team can accomplish.

"I think we can go really far," Turner said. "I think we can go all the way to the championship game."

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