Minutes after the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes finished celebrating their march to being the best team in the Big Ten, they learned that their third and final goal wouldn’t come easy.
Ohio State watched as it was named the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region. The Buckeyes will play No. 15-seeded University of California-Santa Barbara on Friday.
Evan Turner, who had just finished putting up back-to-back 31-point games in the conference tournament, immediately turned his and the Buckeyes’ attention to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s a good draw. We’re close to home in Milwaukee,” Turner said. “We’ve just got to go out there and take care of business. Try and handle what we can control. We can’t really worry about the games afterwards. We have to worry about the first game, which is UC Santa Barbara. They’re there for a reason, and then take it step-by-step.”
Even though Turner said UC Santa Barbara was the most important thing right now, he did make a reference to one interesting fact about the daunting task ahead of the Buckeyes.
Their region is to say the least, difficult.
It is filled with several dangerous seeds, some of which could have been placed higher in the process. Just looking at the other 15 teams OSU could potentially face if it made a deep tournament run, it’s clear that if OSU wants to be back in Indianapolis for the Final Four in three weeks, it will have to earn it.
“I think when you take 65, it’s going to be tough regardless,” OSU coach Thad Matta said.
“You go back a couple years ago, we were a [No.] 2 seed and had Georgetown in the second round as a [No.] 10 seed. You know, it’s one of those situations where you look at the 8-9 games. If you’re a 1 seed, who do you want to play in those games.”
“You know, us, you’ve got to shift your mind to, okay, we’ve got Santa Barbara. Where do we go from there? I don’t think there’s any easy way. I just hope we’re playing our best basketball right now as we move forward.”
If the Buckeyes do get past their first matchup with the Gauchos, they could face their first big test early. Georgia Tech or Oklahoma State could await the Buckeyes, and both have been tested against top competition.
Oklahoma State is one of the two teams that has knocked off top-ranked Kansas this season. Georgia Tech took Duke to the limit in the ACC Championship on Sunday, almost making its bid outright.
Speaking of the No. 1 team in all of college basketball, if all goes as planned and the Buckeyes make it to the Elite Eight, they could potentially face a matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks.
It seemed like no one wanted to be paired with arguably the best-playing team in the country, Kansas, but the Buckeyes, unfortunately, could have that task.
One benefit for OSU, despite possibly playing in the toughest region, is that it will have another day of rest. The NCAA tournament will begin on Thursday, but OSU won’t take the court in Milwaukee until Friday. That is one thing Ohio State can consider a positive.
“Yeah, most definitely,” Turner said when asked if he liked the extra day of rest. “You know, we played a hard 130 minutes this weekend, and we definitely would like a couple days off a little bit. But when it it’s time to go, it’s time to go. We’ll get back into it and get clicking on all cylinders. A day off will be nice.”
Matta said the extra day will benefit OSU with more than just rest because the players will be dealing with finals this week before traveling to their first-round destination.
Several other interesting teams are in the Midwest, including two that could cause deja vu.
In 2007, Ohio State’s last deep run in the NCAA tournament, they battled with both Tennessee and Georgetown. Both teams are lurking in the Midwest as potential matchups before the Elite Eight.
OSU could also matchup with two more familiar teams in Michigan State and Ohio. It would be unlikely, but if OU could continue to pull off upsets like they did in their conference tournament, it could see OSU in the Sweet 16.
The Buckeyes and Spartans only met once this season with the Buckeyes winning in East Lansing, Mich. Under Tom Izzo, it does seem that they play their best basketball in the field of 65.
Who knows what will happen over the next several weeks to the Buckeyes, but they do have two things other than a day of rest in their favor.
Three out of the last four No. 1 seeds to win the Big Ten Tournament have gone on to the Final Four.
OSU also got experience cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.