By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
For the 15th time in school history, the University of Dayton men’s basketball team starts its NCAA Tournament journey toward a national championship.
Dayton, the No. 11 seed in the South region, takes on the sixth seed, Ohio State University, Thursday, March 20, at 12:15 p.m., at the First Niagara Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.
“It’ll be a lot of outside media attention and there will be a lot that goes into the hype because Ohio State is such a monster,” head coach Archie Miller said. “When you’re in the state of Ohio, you deal with it all the time and being who we are, obviously we’re very excited to be in the tournament and our players will be motivated.”
The 10th all-time meeting between Dayton and Ohio State will be the second to occur during the postseason. The Buckeyes overall hold a 6-3 lead, with Dayton’s last win coming Dec. 19, 1987, at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio. OSU won the previous matchup in the series, a 74-63 home victory in the quarterfinals of the National Invitational Tournament March 26, 2008, at Value City Arena.
Dayton went 23-10 and finished in a tie for fifth in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season, winning 10 of their final 12 games. UD enters the tournament after being one of the final at-large teams to make the field of 68.
UD bowed out in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament Friday, March 14, and had a 48-hour wait to see their fate before receiving the good news during the Selection Show Sunday, March 16.
Ohio State also received an at-large bid with a 25-9 record, and is led by head coach Thad Matta, who is long familiar with UD. Matta came to Ohio State after a three year stint in the same position at Xavier University, where he owned a 7-1 record against the Flyers. He also is 12-4 against his former assistants. Miller spent two seasons under him at OSU in 2008 and 2009.
“My initial reaction was I was so excited to see Dayton up there, because I wanted Arch to get into the NCAA tournament,” Matta said. “Then it was kind of like, ‘ah, here we go.’ I’m so happy in terms of him getting in.”
An experienced tournament squad awaits the Flyers at tip-off time. Ohio State’s roster has 53 games of combined experience in NCAA play. The program has made the Sweet 16 each of the last four seasons, the longest streak in the country, and two Final Fours in 2007 and 2012.
Junior forward LaQuinton Ross leads the Buckeyes with 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this year. Senior guard Aaron Craft is the Big Ten Conference’s defensive player of the year for the second time in his career, a four-time all-defensive team member, and the conference’s all-time steals leader.
“I don’t know their personnel as I once did,” Miller said. “Thad’s teams always do a couple things that will never go away. One is they’re always incredible on defense. They never beat themselves. They don’t foul. On offense they very rarely turn the ball over. Whether they are a very good shooting team or they’re not, they always take care of the ball, which means you’re going to end up having to beat them. They’re never going to beat themselves.”
Miller said a key of Matta’s teams has been to rely on veteran players, which the Buckeyes have again this year as Craft and senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. have combined for the third most wins as a senior class in OSU history.
Matta said he isn’t concerned about Dayton having extra motivation facing an in-state rival.
“The fact that you’re playing a team one hour away or five hours away, it’s kind of irrelevant to me,” Matta said.
Redshirt junior guard Jordan Sibert transferred to Dayton after spending his first two collegiate years at Ohio State. After redshirting the 2012-13 season, Sibert has started 31 games for UD this season, and leads the team in scoring at 12.5 points per game.
However, Miller said no specific connection will matter once the game begins.
“I think going into big moments like this, you’ve got to feel proud about what you’ve done, but at the same time be who you are, which is kind of be the team we’ve been here through the course of three, four months straight,” Miller said. “Be yourself, be humble, care about one another, play to win. When you’re in these situations, don’t worry about anything on the outside. Just go do what you do and play to win. Be aggressive and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”