INDIANAPOLIS — The Ohio State men’s basketball team appears to be collecting championships. There’s only one left, and it’s the most elusive of them all.
It’s so elusive, only one OSU men’s basketball team has won the NCAA Championship before: the 1960 team, led by coach Fred Taylor and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Jerry Lucas.
This year’s version enters the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. It will go on to face the winner of a play-in game between Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State on Friday in Cleveland.
Lucas said he believes this team has a shot at being the second OSU team to win an NCAA Championship.
“I think they have a good shot at winning,” Lucas told The Lantern. “They’re strong inside; they have good shooters; they handle the ball well and have a good perimeter game. They’re strong in every facet of the game.”
Lucas warned that the road to the finals isn’t an easy one.
“They’ll be ready, but what is it, six games they’re going to have to win? It’s going to be tough. If they’re not shooting well and some other team gets hot it could cause them problems,” Lucas said. “But they have all the weapons they need.”
Lucas wasn’t the only alumnus who said he has faith in this squad. J.J. Sullinger, another former Buckeye basketball player and older brother of freshman forward Jared Sullinger, also weighed in on this team’s chances.
“We have so many weapons. People talk all the time about how we don’t have any depth. We absolutely have depth,” J.J. said. “We have confidence in every Buckeye that goes into the game. If we play defense and rebound well, nobody’s going to beat us.”
J.J. had some advice for the younger guys, including Jared and freshman forward Deshaun Thomas, who have never played in the NCAA Tournament before.
“It’s back to the drawing board. It’s a new season and a different kind of commitment,” J.J. said. “It’s win or go home. They’re celebrating right now, but once you step out of the shower it’s a brand new season.”
For their part, even the young Buckeyes seem to understand what’s at stake, including being the No. 1 overall seed.
“It’s something special,” Sullinger said. “At the same time we still have a lot of work to do so it doesn’t stop here. … You just have to take it one game at a time and focus on your opponent.”
Coach Thad Matta said he considered it an honor given the parity in college basketball.
“You look across the country at all the great teams, and I give our guys a lot of credit,” coach Thad Matta said. “They’ve come ready to play for 34 games, and probably the hardest thing I think we’ve found this year was the effort that the teams give to beat you each night.”
In the locker room after the game, junior guard William Buford, like Matta, acknowledged that this team would have a bull’s-eye as the No. 1 overall seed. He also said it wouldn’t bother them.
“It’s no pressure for us,” Buford said. “We’re just going to go out and play how we know how to play, and play Ohio State basketball.”
The last time the Buckeyes earned a No. 1 seed was in 2007, when they advanced all the way to the finals before loosing to the eventual champion Florida Gators.
Buford admitted his team has some weaknesses.
“Our defense, we take too many possessions off on defense. I think we need to get our offensive execution together too,” Buford said. “We’re getting good shots; we just weren’t knocking them down (this weekend).”
After the Big Ten Tournament was over, and everything was said and done, senior guard Jon Diebler put everything into perspective.
“We’re happy we accomplished this,” Diebler said. “We’re going to enjoy it tonight and get right back to work.”