Cincinnati-Ohio State Preview|
March 22, 2012
BOSTON (AP) - There are 347 schools playing Division I men's basketball. Thirteen are from Ohio. Four of those are among the 16 teams still playing in the NCAA tournament.
Only one calls itself The Ohio State University.
The flagship school from the leading basketball state in the nation - in this tournament, at least - will play Cincinnati on Thursday night in an East Regional semifinal that is as much a Battle of the Buckeye State as it is a chance to move one game closer to a national title.
"What I've felt all along is it's just a tremendous state for basketball," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who also coached at Miami of Ohio and Xavier before taking over the Buckeyes in 2004.
"I think a lot of times in the high school ranks it gets tabbed as a football state, just all the great players that they've put out. But just in the time that I've been there ... I've got a pretty good understanding of how passionate the fans are. It takes a lot of luck for four teams to get here, obviously. I think it speaks volumes to the level of basketball in the state."
Although it is bordered by hoops hotbeds Kentucky (a state with nine NCAA titles) and Indiana (five), Ohio hasn't really been considered a basketball state since placing a team in four straight championship games from 1960-63. (Ohio State won the first, then lost the next two to Cincinnati; the Bearcats returned in '63 and lost to Loyola of Chicago.)
Ohio State has won two football championships since then, but its appearance in the basketball title game in 2007 is the only one for the state since the '60s. Even - gasp! - Michigan, with three men's basketball championship since then, has more to show from its trips to the NCAA tournament.
"Ohio, everybody knows them as a football state. But we have a little bit of basketball talent inside those borders," said Buckeyes forward Jared Sullinger, a Columbus native who is one of three Ohioans among the top four scorers on the team. "It's just finally showing now."
And not just at Ohio State.
Along with the Buckeyes and Bearcats, Xavier and Ohio have reached the round of 16 this year, with Xavier set to play Baylor in the South Regional semis and Ohio preparing for North Carolina in the Midwest.
"I think the fact that you have four Ohio teams in the Sweet 16 is a sense of great pride for our state," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "In Cincinnati alone we have two, so it's great for our community. ... It's probably good that we're up here in Boston. We don't have to worry so much about the ticket requests for the game."
Cronin said there isn't much of a rivalry with Ohio State because Cincinnati is tucked into the southern corner of the state, just over the Ohio River from Kentucky. The city is as close to Louisville and Lexington as Columbus, and the Bearcats were in Conference USA with the Cardinals before they both joined the BIG EAST.
But there's more to it than that.
Despite being separated by a little more than 100 miles along Interstate 71, Ohio State and Cincinnati have met just once since the 1962 championship game.
"It still kind of has bad blood between the two schools," Sullinger said. "So this one is going to be remembered for whoever goes to the Elite Eight, and it's going to be a battle of Ohio."
For the winner, though, there's more at stake: a spot in the regional finals, and a chance to bring back to Ohio its first NCAA title since 1962.
"I think by us playing here in the Sweet 16, it's not about Cincinnati versus Ohio State. It's about advancing, trying to get to the Elite Eight," said Bearcats forward Yancy Gates, a Cincinnati native. "Really we're just focused on trying to get to New Orleans like everybody else here. It's not about whether we're playing Ohio State or Florida State; it's about the task at hand."
HEADING EAST: The initial 68-team bracket had teams from all over the west, from California and UNLV to Gonzaga and St. Mary's.
Now, they're all gone.
Not a single team from the western half of the United States reached the regionals this year, leaving Baylor, in heart-of-Texas Waco, as the last stop in the bracket.
That's 11 states, no teams. Yet Ohio put a record four teams through to the round of 16: Ohio State, Xavier, Cincinnati and Ohio.
STUDENTS OF THE GAME: Four of the teams in the round of 16 have coaches who never played college hoops and came through the ranks as student managers.
Tom Crean, Indiana - Didn't play at Central Michigan and got his start as a graduate manager at Michigan State before going on to head coaching jobs at Marquette and with the Hoosiers.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati - After coaching a local high school while completing his undergraduate degree, he got his first college coaching job as a video coordinator for the Bearcats in 1996-97.
Buzz Williams, Marquette - Before he became Marquette's head coach, the Buzzsaw served as a student assistant at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, under Juco Hall of Famer Lewis Orr. He also was a student assistant at Oklahoma City University.
Scott Drew, Baylor - Started his career as a student assistant at Butler and later moved on to Valparaiso, where he earned his master's degree while working for his father, Homer, the Crusaders head coach at the time.
BANNERS GONE AS EAST SEMIFINALISTS PRACTICE: Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan didn't have time during practice to glance up at the rafters in TD Garden where 17 Celtics championship banners hung until Tuesday.
"We only get 50 minutes," he said Wednesday, "so we tried to take advantage of every minute we were out there on the court."
The green-and-white banners were removed for the NCAA East semifinals. Wisconsin (26-9) faces Syracuse (33-2) in Thursday night's opener with Ohio State (29-7) meeting Cincinnati (25-10) in the second game.
The Celtics won 16 of their championships in the old Boston Garden. Their current arena opened in 1995 and they didn't win a championship since then until 2008.
Also removed were banners with the Celtics retired numbers, including Larry Bird's 33.
"It's an honor to be here, to play in an arena like this. I don't think this is the arena where Larry Bird played at, is it?' said Syracuse's Scoop Jardine, who has 3 when Bird retired after the 1991-92 season. "We know this is an NBA venue, and it's always great to play on an NBA floor. The tradition here alone in Boston is great, and I'm just happy to be a part of something like this."
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said "I've always been a Celtics fan, going way back." And Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said he's "a big Kevin Garnett fan."
Cronin's also "excited to be coaching where Doc Rivers coaches, even though he didn't send me his son. I could have used him."
Austin Rivers went to Duke, where he just finished an outstanding season as a freshman point guard.