Ohio State said it was ready to go up against some fresh blood and break away from the rugged Big Ten for the NCAA Tournament.
Little did the team know, though, its first opponent in the Big Dance houses a former teammate, in addition to a descendent of Thad Matta’s extensive coaching tree roaming the sidelines.
Meet Ohio State’s first matchup of the 2014 NCAA Tournament: the University of Dayton.
The Buckeyes are set to take on the Flyers (23-10, 10-6) in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, after they were awarded a No. 6 seed in the tournament’s South region Sunday.
For Matta, playing a school located a mere 72 miles away has its benefits.
“For this team, it’s a great thing,” Matta said Sunday. “I like that. Because there won’t need to be a wake up call, there won’t need to be a, ‘Who is this? Who are they? What conference are they in? I haven’t heard of that guy,’ or anything like that. So I like that from that perspective.”
After falling to top-seeded Michigan, 72-69, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament Saturday, the Buckeyes (25-9, 12-9) were given lower than a No. 2 seed in the tournament for the first time in five seasons.
Headed by coach Archie Miller — who spent two seasons as an assistant under Matta before heading to Arizona with his older brother, Sean — the Flyers are led by former Buckeye and redshirt-junior Jordan Sibert, who transferred to Dayton following the 2011-12 season.
Sibert, an outside sharpshooter, leads the Flyers with 12.5 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent from beyond the arc. He was a member of the same recruiting class as OSU senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., who both said they haven’t talked to him recently and are just excited to start the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re excited, obviously, this is the time of year we want to play for and we’re in the tournament so got a great game against Dayton coming up and we’re excited about it,” Craft said Sunday.
Smith Jr. agreed, but said if he put himself in Sibert’s shoes, he would be plenty excited to play against his former teammates.
“At the same time, we’re both in the same boat — you lose, you go home,” Smith Jr. said Sunday. “So I think we’re both going to be jacked up for the same purposes.”
Sibert left Columbus for Dayton because he wasn’t getting the playing time he wanted — he played just 481 minutes in 49 games over his two seasons at OSU.
“When he left he said, ‘Look. I want to play a lot.’ And he’s definitely getting to do that, and he’s honestly having a great career there,” Matta said of Sibert. “I’m one of those guys that says, ‘Hey, as long as everybody’s happy in terms of where they are and what they’re doing, I’m happy for them.’”
The Buckeyes enter the second round matchup after winning nine of their last 13 games, but failed to make the Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship game for the first time in six years after the loss to Michigan Saturday in Indianapolis.
Although it was a little different watching the Selection Show at home instead of after playing for the championship, junior forward Sam Thompson said the mindset didn’t change too much.
“The location was different but I don’t think the seeding was too much different,” Thompson said Sunday. “We know whatever seed we get, wherever we’re placed in the NCAA Tournament, there’s no such thing as an easy game, there’s no such thing as an easy opponent.”
In what is now his 10th season at the helm of the men’s basketball program, coach Thad Matta had led the Buckeyes to a victory in their first game of the NCAA Tournament six of the seven times they have played. The lone loss was a 74-72 double overtime loss to Siena in 2009. OSU was on probation in Matta’s first season — 2004-05 — and won the National Invitational Tournament following the 2007-08 season.
Initially, Matta said he was excited to see Dayton make the tournament because of Miller — then he realized it was his team that was matched up with Miller’s.
“I wanted Arch to get in the NCAA Tournament. Then I was kinda like, ‘Huh, here we go,’” Matta said. “But I think from the perspective, I’m so happy for him in terms of getting in … the longer you do this, the more inner workings there are that it works itself out.”
Tipoff Thursday between the Buckeyes and Flyers is set for 12:15 p.m.