CLEVELAND — A No. 1 seed has never been beaten by a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but Ohio State coach Thad Matta is among those who believe it’s just a matter of time.
“I’ve been part of a 1-16 (matchup) that went down to the wire,” Matta said Thursday before the Buckeyes’ practice at Quicken Loans Arena. “So I know what those guys (in the opposing locker room) are thinking over there.”
Matta was an assistant coach for Western Carolina in 1996, when the Catamounts nearly did the improbable. But top-seeded Purdue es-caped with a 73-71 victory.
Matta thought the game could serve as a beacon for his team as it prepares for today’s opener against No. 16 University of Texas-San Antonio, but he hasn’t harped about it.
“He only mentioned it once actually,” senior guard Jon Diebler said. “I don’t think any of us really knew about it until he mentioned it a couple nights ago. We’re really just worried about ourselves right now. We need to come out with the right mindset, and I think we will because we’ve had a couple days to prepare. We’ll be ready to go.”
That’s probably what Matta was hoping to hear, and it’s surely what Buckeye fans were expecting to hear.
Ohio State (32-2) has the top overall seed in the 68-team field, went unbeaten in its home state this season and has a plethora of offensive weapons to go with its stalwart defense.
For all intents and purposes, the Buckeyes and their fans shouldn’t have to start sweating for at least another game.
“Honestly, we don’t have any worries,” Diebler said. “We’re focused on all the positives that we bring to the table. I think we’re very talented, and we feel that if we come to play every night and come with the intensity we need to have, we should be OK.”
Fifth-year senior David Lighty was part of the 2007 Buckeyes team that competed in the national championship game against Florida, sharp-shooting Diebler, who was part of the NIT championship squad in 2008, owns nearly every one of the program’s 3-point records and Jared Sullinger, a 6-foot-9, 280-pound center, is the best freshman in the country.
Not to mention Matta holds a 188-56 record at Ohio State, which includes three Big Ten championships and eight NCAA Tournament wins.
“Obviously we’re going to play very good basketball teams — to be in the tournament you have to be a very good basketball team,” Diebler said. “It’s not an easy run, but at the same time we’ve been doing it all year. We’ve lost two games during the regular season against ranked opponents on their home courts, so we’re feeling very confident with our ability.”
The hardwood at The Q shouldn’t feel too much different than that of Value City Arena, especially because the two-hour trek north didn’t come close to moving Ohio State out of Buckeye Nation.
“We’re excited to be in Cleveland … this is still Ohio state,” Matta said. “We have a ton of Buckeyes fans here. After that grueling (Big Ten) tournament and all the guys are sitting around tired and beat down, I was shocked at how excited they got about coming here when it came up on the screen.”
Especially for Lighty, a Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joe graduate, and fellow senior Dallas Lauderdale, who played for Solon.
“It’s special, especially it being our senior years,” Lighty said. “It’s our last go-around. Coming back to where it all started, playing the game of basketball in front of our families and friends … it’s something you really can’t describe.”
But with Matta’s warning fresh in their heads, it’s also something the Buckeyes can’t take lightly. They know they will need to be prepared tonight so they can continue their run toward history, instead of allowing the Roadrunners to make some.
“Anything is possible in the tournament,” Lighty said. “If you’re not ready to play, you’ll end up getting beat. They can come out and put a big run on us and things could never turn in our favor.
“So it’s just about us being focused on executing the game plan that Coach drew up for us.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at (440) 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 16 Texas-San Antonio
WHERE: Quicken Loans Arena
TV/RADIO: TNT; WKNR 850-AM; WQKT 104.5-FM