Berths for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament aren’t won and lost in November, but teams can certainly make a case for higher seeding come March with early season success.
The No. 3-ranked Ohio State basketball team will have its first chance to impress the nation and take a significant step toward a top spot in March Madness Tuesday when it hosts the No. 7-ranked Florida Gators at the Schottenstein Center.
The Buckeyes opened the 2011-12 campaign with a 73-42 win against Wright State Friday in a game senior guard William Buford said the Buckeyes could have executed better.
“I think we could have done better on the offensive end executing our plays,” Buford said. “We were kind of sluggish in the first half.”
The Buckeyes shot just 32 percent in the game, but sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, who led all scorers in the game with 19 points on 4-of-7 shooting, helped turn a tight contest into a rout.
“We got tired of it being a back-and-forth game,” Sullinger said. “We decided to put our foot on their throat and stop the back-and-forthness.”
There was no “back-and-forthness” in the Gators’ opening-night win.
Florida (1-0) also opened its season Friday, defeating Jackson State, 99-59. The Gators were led by junior guard Kenny Boynton’s 19 points and shot 51-percent from the field in the win.
Florida coach Billy Donovan’s squad returns two starters — Boynton and senior guard Erving Walker — from last year’s team, which dropped a 93-75 decision to the Buckeyes at Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Nov. 16, 2010.
“I know they didn’t forget what happened last time when we went (to Florida) and won by 20 at their home court,” Sullinger said. “They’ll be looking for some revenge.”
The Gators might find themselves hard-pressed to avenge last year’s loss thanks to the Buckeyes’ stout defense. OSU forced 16 first-half turnovers against Wright State and limited the Raiders to 13-of-41 shooting from the field.
OSU coach Thad Matta said that, similar to last year’s matchup with the Gators, defense will be key for his team.
“We’ve got to defend. We’ve got to do a great job taking care of the basketball,” Matta said. “They’re one of the best team’s I’ve seen thus far.”
In just the second game of the season for both teams, not even the Buckeyes are fully aware of their identity.
Matta said one advantage of playing the No. 8 team in the country early in the season is that he’ll have a better understanding of his squad.
“I like it from the standpoint that, by the conclusion (Tuesday’s) game, we’ll have a better feeling of where we are, good or bad,” Matt said. “I’m aware that we’ve got a long way to go, but you play a game like this and hope that you come out and you’re a better basketball team because of it.”
Tuesday’s match with the Gators, Southeastern Conference East division winners and owners of a 29-8 overall record last season, is no dress rehearsal, though.
“Florida is going to be a different breed, I know that much,” Sullinger said.
Buford agreed, saying the Buckeyes will need to improve before Tuesday’s battle with the Gators.
“We need to play much better, or it’s not going to be pretty,” he said. “We beat them on their home floor (last year), so they’re going to come in and give us their best.”
Tuesday’s game against Florida is set to tip off at 8 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.