For an 18- or 19-year-old college student, sometimes the allure of money can prove to be too much.
In the modern age of college basketball, it is rare for talented freshmen to stay at school for much longer than a season before jumping to the NBA. Which is why when the NCAA Tournament rolls around every year, a focus is placed on a potentially deciding factor when fans are selecting their brackets.
Pundits often state that a team with experience — that has seen what the NCAA Tournament is like — is more likely to succeed in March.
That is good news for Buckeye Nation, as every one of OSU’s top six players have been to at least an Elite Eight and a Final Four.
Two seniors — guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. — and four juniors — center Amir Williams, forwards LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson and guard Shannon Scott — make up the main rotation for the Buckeyes (25-9, 12-9) this season, with no other player starting for coach Thad Matta in 2013-14.
Craft said even though the team comes in with experience in the Big Dance, that isn’t going to be as much of a factor as everyone believes.
“It doesn’t help as much as you may think,” Craft said Sunday after finding out OSU’s tourney fate. “Just because we’ve been there in the past doesn’t necessarily equal success now. It’s a different year, it’s a different team and every draw is different. The worst that we could do is to fall back on, ‘We’ve had some experience, we’ll be OK.’ That’s not the case. It’s about coming out and making the most of the opportunity we have this year and trying to make it last as long as possible.”
The Findlay, Ohio, native has seen his fair share of NCAA Tournament games though, playing in 12 games in March Madness in the span of his career. Perhaps the most memorable moment in Craft’s postseason career came when he hit a game winning 3-pointer against Iowa State in the third round in 2013.
Craft said perhaps the one piece of knowledge that can aid the Buckeyes from seasons past is how to fight through the toughest tests.
“The one thing that can carry over is the fact that we’ve been through battles,” Craft said. “Obviously throughout the league, throughout this year, all three guys sitting beside me, we’ve been through tough games and atmospheres like this. If things aren’t really going our way, we have a good sense of staying poised. That’s one thing that I think can help us going forward because obviously things aren’t always going to go our way. But continue to fight with one another, that’s something that I think can carry over from the games from the past, especially the NCAA Tournament.”
But even though OSU is participating in its sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament, 2014 might be a little different. For the first time in five seasons, OSU will not be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the field.
Junior forward Sam Thompson said even though having a lower seed is different, it doesn’t affect what OSU has to do to make a deep run.
“We know whatever seed we got, wherever we were placed in the NCAA Tournament, there’s no such thing as an easy game, there’s no such thing as an easy opponent,” Thompson said Sunday. “We know that we have to bring our best basketball for 40 minutes if we want to have success in the tournament, and whether we have a two next to our name or whether we have a six next to our name, that doesn’t change.”
Coach Thad Matta agreed, saying the team has improved as the season has gone on and he just wants another chance on the court.
“This is Ohio State’s sixth straight NCAA Tournament … I’m just, I’m excited for this team and the opportunity to play again,” Matta said. “As I told our guys, we’re a better basketball team than when we left Columbus going to Indianapolis. No matter who you’re going to play in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be a really good basketball team.”
Matta, who is the only coach in the country that has led a team to at least the Sweet Sixteen each of the past four seasons, said the preparation doesn’t change having a lower seed.
“I’d like to have the same mindset, because I liked how far the last couple teams, three teams, have made it,” Matta said. “That’s why I’m excited to get in there and talk to the guys.”
The sixth-seeded Buckeyes will look to flaunt their experience, and aim to repeat their successes, against Dayton (23-10, 10-6) Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:15 p.m.
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