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6-seed or not, Ohio State coach Thad Matta focused on Dayton

Coach Thad Matta calls to players. OSU beat Purdue, 63-61, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament March 13 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Coach Thad Matta calls to players. OSU beat Purdue, 63-61, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament March 13 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

At first, Thad Matta wasn’t sure what to make of his team’s seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

Within the first 10 minutes of the bracket being unveiled Sunday, Matta knew who, where and when Ohio State was playing — Dayton, Buffalo, N.Y., and Thursday.

The Buckeyes were given a No. 6 seed in the South region — the first component of the 68-team field to get revealed — but OSU’s coach wasn’t sure if the mark was fair.

“Um … yeah, I guess,” Matta said Sunday, his lips curling. “Something — I thought we’d be a five.”

The Big Ten collected six bids into the Big Dance — conference tournament champion and automatic qualifier Michigan State and at-large bids Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and OSU.

“I think with as many Big Ten teams that got in … that we may have gotten bumped,” Matta said. “Which is fine.”

If the Buckeyes had gotten a No. 5 seed, there was a chance their first game in the tournament would be in Spokane, Wash., or San Diego — three of the four No. 5 seeds are set to play in those locations, three time zones away. The other option was Orlando, Fla., but Matta joked that playing in California wouldn’t have been a problem because of the chance to get away from the seemingly never-ending brisk Ohio weather.

“San Diego’s so nice,” Matta said with a laugh. “But no, I always say that’s why I chose an indoor sport.”

If the Buckeyes are under-seeded, they aren’t alone, national columnist for CBSSports.com Gregg Doyel said, because No. 4-seeded Louisville was another team who got the shaft by the Selection Committee.

“Not only is Louisville a four, if they play Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen, that will be in Indianapolis,” Doyel said in an interview with The Lantern Sunday, referring to the unbeaten Shockers, who are the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region. “That’s an hour from Louisville. That’s an hour away. That’s a home game for Louisville. A No. 1 seed should never play a road game against a four seed. Ever.

“(But) first of all, if Louisville can be a four, (OSU) can definitely be a six.”

The matchup between the Buckeyes and No. 11 Flyers is the lone one between schools from the same state in either the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament. That, Doyel said, is “crazy.”

“I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories with the Selection Committee and all that, but this game is just one of many,” Doyel said, referring to potential third-round matchups between teams from bordering states.

Among these include how Creighton would take on Nebraska and Kansas State facing Wichita State if all teams survive and advance, which could make it seem like the Selection Committee chose those seed in the interest of television ratings or other rivalries, instead of each team’s tournament résumé. But in the case of Dayton and OSU, Doyel believes the advantage will be on the Flyers’ side.

“The emotional advantage will be Dayton’s,” Doyel said. “But I think in this case, you always give the edge to the underdog, try to knock off Big Brother … that’s not just winning a tournament game — that’s making history. If Ohio State wins, they’ve won the first round game. If Dayton wins, that’s school history.”

After learning of his team’s whereabouts and adversary, Matta didn’t stick around long to see more of the bracket. The Buckeyes are in the same region as traditional powers Florida, Kansas and UCLA, but Matta’s not concerned about that.

“I know we got Dayton, Syracuse and Western Michigan. That’s all I saw,” Matta said. “I don’t even know where, if we win games, where we go, to be honest with you.”

If the Buckeyes do get past Dayton Thursday —tipoff is set for 12:15 p.m., they are favored to take on Syracuse, the No. 3-seed, which wouldn’t be easy for them, Doyel said.

“I just don’t think they’re all that good. But they can’t beat Syracuse in the (third) round. Syracuse is going to say, ‘Hey, shoot threes,’” Doyel said. “Well, Ohio State can’t shoot threes.”

The Buckeyes are shooting 32.6 percent on 3-pointers this season, which is just good enough to tie for 262th in the country out of 351 teams. Opponents have shot 34.6 percent against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense this year, though.

“I just hope I see it, to be honest with you,” Matta said of the defense. “We need a good three-day prep for Dayton. I have seen Syracuse play, but haven’t started to break them down in terms of that yet.”

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