This one means a little more.
This one — and all the rest from here on out — could be the swan song for two of a program’s most tenured and successful players.
This one is the mentor against the pupil. The 14-year head coaching veteran against the young, up-and-coming fireball looking to continue making a name for himself.
This is old teammates now sitting on opposing benches after wearing the same colors for two seasons.
This is an in-state battle, a major conference against a mid-major adversary.
This is Ohio State and Dayton.
The No. 6-seed Buckeyes (25-9, 12-9) and No. 11-seed Flyers (23-10, 11-7) are set to battle to take another step forward toward the ultimate goal of winning the 2014 National Championship, Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in Buffalo, N.Y. The second game of the South region (Albany defeated Mount St. Mary’s, 71-64, in the First Round Tuesday), the game is the official kickoff for the second round of the tournament.
“For us, and for Dayton, you win or you go home,” OSU coach Thad Matta said Wednesday. “There’s not a whole lot more than that.”
Matta is slated to face off against one of his old assistants in Archie Miller, who spent two years in Columbus before jumping to Arizona with his older brother Sean and ultimately landing the head coaching job at Dayton.
“That’s Columbus, and that’s where they are. It’s a powerful, powerful place. I was very fortunate to spend a couple of years there and feel that and understand it,” Miller said Wednesday. “But at the same time, a place like ours has its own special tradition, has a great program, an unbelievable fan base. In my opinion, the best fan base in the state of Ohio for basketball.”
The similarities between Miller’s Flyers and Matta’s Buckeyes lie in the groundwork each set prior to tournament time this season. Both squads dropped five games in January, each peppered with four-game losing streaks within. Both have four players averaging at least eight points a game, and use substitution rotations of nine players. Each team won three games on a neutral floor this season, much like the one they are scheduled to play on at the First Niagara Center.
Dayton redshirt-junior guard Jordan Sibert left OSU following the 2011-12 season to get more playing time, and now leads the team in scoring. Two of Sibert’s former teammates, senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., have played in a combined 22 NCAA Tournament games. That’s compared to a combined four games of NCAA Tournament experience for the entirety of Dayton’s roster — two games for Sibert his freshman year at OSU, and two for redshirt-senior guard Vee Sanford, one in both his freshman and sophomore years at Georgetown.
Being a senior with tournament experience helps a lot, Craft said.
“Just knowing what the routine is, being able to know when you have to concentrate and get things done,” Craft said Wednesday. “Lenzelle and I have been here for four years now. Just because we’ve had a little bit of success before doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have success now, but I think it helps us prepare ourselves mentally for what the NCAA Tournament means and what it’s about.”
The last meeting between the two schools was also a postseason affair, albeit in the 2008 NIT. OSU won that game, 74-63, in Columbus, before any member of either team was in college.
Smith Jr. said his tournament experience is going to help him personally come tipoff Thursday.
“I’ve seen everything,” Smith Jr. said Wednesday. “I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum from winning tough games to losing tough games. I just think it helps me mentally prepare better and know what to expect, especially when you get into the tournament.”
The game between OSU and Dayton is set to be Miller’s first in the NCAA Tournament at the helm of a program. Going up against another member of his extensive coaching tree in such a situation doesn’t seem to mean much to Matta, however.
“I honestly won’t even know he’s down there. It’s the game, it’s what’s going on there,” Matta said. “Before the game, you shake hands. After the game, you shake hands. But in between there, I don’t know what he’s doing or anything like that.”
Experienced or not, power conference or mid-major — it all goes by the wayside come tipoff.
“The experience isn’t going to put the ball in the basket for us this year,” Craft said. “It’s a balance of understanding it’s a new year and it’s a new team, and it’s a new experience that you’ve got to try to make the most of.”