When the Buckeyes board their bus
at University of Dayton Arena and make those two quick right turns to get on
north, they'll either be on their way home for good or heading off to someplace
entirely new for them.
The second-seeded Buckeyes (27-7) are one
win away from reaching the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the fourth year in
a row, something they've never done in their storied basketball history. In
their way is 10th-seeded Iowa State (23-11), a team that will test all areas of a defense that
has been Ohio State's strength down
The winner heads to
Los Angeles to face whoever is left in the West Regional and its upset-filled
talked about this week with our guys is the two games in Dayton,” coach
Thad Matta said Saturday. “Hopefully on the bus ride home, we're saying,
'OK, this is the next opponent, and these are the four teams that are
The West already has
provided several of the tournament's double-take moments. No. 3 New Mexico, No.
4 Kansas State and
No. 5 Wisconsin lost their opening games, wiping out the top of the bracket.
No. 1 Gonzaga and Ohio
State are the top
two still standing.
It wouldn't be a
shock if the Buckeyes
failed to make the trip West. They've been knocked out during Matta's two
tournament appearances in Dayton, which is only an hour and 15 minutes away
from their Columbus campus. Even though they had thousands of fans providing a
home-court feel, they couldn't survive the first weekend.
They were a No. 2 seed
– just like this year – when they lost to Georgetown in the second round in
2006 on a day of upsets in Dayton. Defending national champion North Carolina
also lost in the blue-and-red arena that year. The Buckeyes lost a double-overtime game to Siena
in 2009, when they were an eighth seed in Dayton.
Neither of those
teams had the versatility and defense that this one brings into Sunday's game
against the nation's top 3-point shooting team, which spreads out and tries to
attack from everywhere on the floor. The Cyclones were at their best during a
76-58 win over Notre Dame on Friday night, taking only 21 shots from behind the
arc. With the Fighting Irish concentrating so much on those perimeter shooters,
Iowa State took
the ball inside and dominated from the outset.
Iowa State is hoping the
wide-open approach gets it back to the round of 16 for the first time since
2000, when the Cyclones lost in a regional final. The Cyclones take so many
shots from behind the arc – nearly 44 percent of their total attempts – that
it's been tough for teams to keep up. Iowa State has scored at least 80 points in 20 of
“I mean, we just
have shooters,” said guard Chris Babb, who is second on the team with 62
3-pointers. “Any team on the court, normally 1-through-5 is somebody who
can knock down a 3-point shot. When we go out in transition, coach (Fred)
Hoiberg gives us that opportunity. If you have that open shot and you're
confident that you're going to make it, go ahead and take it.”
can't let them slip into a take-it, make-it mentality.
The Buckeyes have been very
good at shutting down the perimeter during their nine-game winning streak that
includes the Big Ten tournament title. That reliable defense wasn't there
earlier in the season.
“I think as a
team, we're all doing our roles now,” guard Shannon Scott said.
“We're not trying to do one-on-one basketball now. We're all playing
together, and that's really helped us out a lot. Coach Matta talked to us about
this – playing our game – and we know what we've got to do to win.”
That defense starts
with point guard Aaron Craft, who had a season-high six steals during a 95-70
win over Iona on Friday night. Iowa State tries to get inside opposing defenses and force two players
to come to the ball, leaving someone open on the perimeter. If Craft can keep
them out, it'll be a lot tougher for the Cyclones to get open 3s.
And if the Cyclones
get a little sloppy, they'll be shooting a lot of 3s out of necessity, just to
try to catch up.
“I think Aaron
Craft is as dominant a defensive player at the guard spot maybe that I've ever
seen,” Hoiberg said. “He just poses so many problems as far as
creating turnovers which lead to run-outs which lead to baskets. We've got to
take great care of the basketball.”