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By Matt McCoy
Thad Matta addresses the Buckeyes after their Big Ten Tournament championship game victory over Wisconsin. (Photo from OSU assistant Jeff Boals)
To listen to Thad Matta following the Buckeyes Big Ten Tournament win click HERE
One month to the day after Ohio State lost by 22 points at Wisconsin, they met the Badgers again, this time, for the Big Ten Tournament title. Just like the other seven games since the debacle in Madison, the Buckeyes won...and did it with defense.
Ohio State held Wisconsin without a field goal for the final 7:02 and outscored the Badgers 11-2 down the stretch to win the title game 50-43.
"Great win for our program and a great win for our University," Coach Thad Matta said. "I'm elated."
Matta is usually elated after conferenece tournaments. He's been to seven of the last eight championship games, including five in a row, has won four titles overall and three of the last four. His career record at the Big Ten Tournament is 19-5. To put that in perspective, the programs with the next most conference tournament wins since Matta's arrival at Ohio State are Illinois and Michigan State with 11.
"I don't know if I've ever been more proud of a basketball team," Matta said. "You look at this tournament and you look at this league and we've gone 21 straight games (against the Big Ten) and to be standing on top of it today...incredible."
I'm sure Matta and the Buckeyes would prefer to have gotten that Big Ten regular season title share, but the tournament crown isn't bad and they can take consolation in the fact that including the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State finished 16-5 in the Big 10...the best record in the league. Indiana, with its loss to Wisconsin in the semifinals finished 15-5. Of course, the way things are going, Ohio State could play some more Big Ten basketball in the NCAA tournament.
Ohio State is the number two seed in the West region of the NCAA tournament (click here for bracket) and Wisconsin is the five. It would be way down the road, but potentially the Buckeyes and Badgers could meet again. This time it would be in the West Regional Final.
First things first though. Ohio State's tournament run begins in Dayton on Friday night at 7:10 against Iona, champions of the Metro Atlantic Conference.
"There are no bad basketball teams left," Buckeye guard Aaron Craft said. "If you make the tournament, you have to be ready to go. We know (Iona) likes to get up and down (the court) a little bit. They like to score the ball a lot so transistion defense and things like that are going to be very important."
Iona averages more than 80 points a game...second best in the nation. The Gaels are led by point guard Lamont Jones who averages 23 points a game. I'd imagine he'll be introduced to Aaron Craft rather quickly. Craft has been the ringleader on the Buckeye defense all year and especially during this eight game winning streak. No team has scored more than 60 points on the Buckeyes during this eight game run. It'll be interesting to see if the high scoring Gaels can.
You would think the geography of getting sent to Dayton would be a good thing...and it is...but Thad Matta knows it's no guarantee of tournament success.
"We're 1-2 in the NCAA tournament there," Matta said. "We beat Davidson and lost to Georgetown (in 2006) and then Siena got us in double-overtime (in 2009) so we've got to change our luck in that regard."
After the Buckeye/Iona game, Iowa State faces Notre Dame. If the Buckeyes advance, they will meet the winner of the Cyclone/Irish game on Sunday with a trip to the West Regional Sweet 16 in Los Angeles on the line.
At the top of the West Region is Gonzaga. The three seed is New Mexico and the four is Kansas State.
Familiar faces for Thad
If you look at the West Region there are several coaches Matta is either familiar with or has coached against.
Starting at the top, the Buckeyes faced and beat Mark Few and Gonzaga a year ago in the second round of the East Region in Pittsburgh. Three seed New Mexico is coached by former Iowa coach Steve Alford. The four seed, Kansas State is led by Bruce Weber, who until last year, was at Illinois. Wisconsin and Bo Ryan are the five seed. Arizona, with Matta's former assistant and close friend to this day, Sean Miller, is the six and even further down, the 14 seed, Harvard, is led by former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker.
Craft the MOP
Aaron Craft was the Most Outstanding Player at the Big Ten tournament. He was joined by teammate Deshaun Thomas on the all-tournament team. Also making the all-tourney team was Indiana's Cody Zeller and Wisconsin's Ryan Evans and Traevon Jackson. Jackson, out of Westerville, is the son of former OSU great Jim Jackson and was outstanding in all three games for the Badgers. In my opinion, he was the most improved player in the Big Ten this year. From where he was early in the year, to now is night and day. He's turned into a terrific player and still has two more years to go.
To listen to Craft and Deshaun Thomas talk following the Buckeyes win click HERE
My Final Vote
I sent in my final AP top 25 ballot. I have the Buckeyes number seven. Louisville finishes the year as my number one. Wow did they look good this weekend. Here's how I voted.
7) Ohio State
9) Michigan State
10) Kansas State
11) New Mexico
15) St. Louis
17) Oklahoma State
21) Notre Dame