As Ohio State navigated a Big Ten schedule by relying on four guards who average at least 33 minutes per game, the Buckeyes were dubbed the "Iron Five" by Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Now, as the Buckeyes prepare for a first-round date with UC Santa Barbara (9:45 p.m., CBS), Gauchos head coach Bob Williams has a new moniker for them.
Say hello to "The Quads."
"They have a team that reminds you a little bit – because of their guard play – of the Triplets at Arkansas, except this is the Quads because they have four guards that play all the time," he said.
As the 1978 Razorbacks reached the Final Four, they did so thanks to the play of three similar guards: Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer. Each stood about 6-3. Moncrief and Brewer each went on to NBA careers, and it was Brewer who hit the game-winning shot in the consolation game of the tournament.
For both Brewer and Moncrief, it was the end of their collegiate careers.
That is the team UCSB, which captured both the regular season and tournament championships in the Big West, will face in the NCAA Tournament. As Williams has surveyed the OSU roster, he described a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
"These kids seem to play really within themselves and really well together," he said. "And (I'm impressed with) how versatile those four guards are in terms of their ability to rebound and defend, but they all handle it, they all pass it and they all shoot it.
"I've got to think it's a coach's dream to coach (that team)."
His counterpart on the other bench, OSU head coach Thad Matta, might argue a few of those points. Although the coach has spoken of his fondness for this year's team on a number of different occasions, Matta has said all season long that his focus is trying to get a full 40 minutes out of his roster.
Asked if he has gotten there yet, Matta pointed to one game: an 85-63 home victory Jan. 31 against Minnesota.
"We've had some other games along the way where it wasn't bad," he said. "You're not going to score every time down the floor or stop them from scoring. It's something that I'm probably never going to get, as much as I want it."
The Buckeyes are more content than ever to ride their short rotation as far as it can take them. In capturing a Big Ten tournament title, OSU won three games in as many days by not subbing for its starters until the final two minutes of the final two games.
The number of minutes played this season has not caught up to the Buckeyes because they play the way Williams described them, Lighty said.
"We're just playing together," he said. "We're out there playing the game that we love. You really don't have time to get tired. It's something we've been doing all our lives. We are just out there having fun and playing together and feeding off of each other."
As OSU fans know, Turner is the leader of the group with his averages of 20.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.9. The candidate for national player of the year, Turner reminds the UCSB coach of a type of movie star.
Asked what watching tape of Turner has been like, the coach said, "A little bit like going to a horror movie."
Pausing for laughter, he added, "We haven't played against anybody that was like Evan Turner. There's really not a weakness in his game. He's probably the most complete player that, in my college tenure of being able to coach, that I've had the opportunity to coach against."
Williams has been coaching since the 1986-87 season and boasts his conference's version of Turner: 6-5 sophomore guard Orlando Johnson, who won both the regular season and conference tournament most valuable player honors after averaging 17.9 points and 5.4 boards per game. He is complimented by 6-5 classmate James Nunnally, a forward who is the only other Gaucho averaging more than 10 points per game.
He sits at 15.0 with a team-high 5.7 boards. In comparison, each of OSU's "Quads" averages at least 11.4 points per game.
The Gauchos know what they are up against.
"We will be looser going into this, and we should be," Williams said. "We have nothing to lose. We are David. They are Goliath. We're not going to go out there and be hesitant about whether or not to let it fly."