Although their campuses are separated by just 75 miles, this will be only the 10th-ever meeting between the two. The Buckeyes have been knocked for their hesitance to visit in-state rivals in non-conference games. The last time the teams played a series against each other was from 1984 to 1988, with each team winning twice. Their last meeting came in the 2008 NIT quarterfinals, a game Ohio State won on its way to winning the tournament. Each team should have a good scouting report on the other. That’s because Dayton coach Archie Miller is a former assistant under Buckeyes coach Thad Matta. Miller is one of the bright young minds in the game — he has 60 wins in his first three seasons with the Flyers, who are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2009. Matta, meanwhile, has led the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 the last four years, a school record and the longest such streak in the country.
Junior guard Jordan Sibert will have all the motivation he could ever want Thursday. Sibert started his collegiate career at Ohio State, but transferred after his sophomore season — a year in which the Buckeyes went to the Final Four. Sibert redshirted last year, and has come back to lead the Flyers with 12.5 points per game this season. He’s shooting .439 from three-point range and playing nearly 26 minutes per game. Devin Oliver is the team’s heart and soul. He became the first Flyer to win both the team’s MVP and Most Improved Player award in the same season. He’s second in scoring (12.1 ppg) and leads the team in rebounds (7.5 per game), assists (78) and steals (29). The Flyers have been hot recently – shooting .490 from the field and .422 from three-point range in their last five games.
Ohio State went 10-8 in the rugged Big Ten — but believes its conference slate has it ready for tournament time. The Buckeyes are 8-5 this season in 13 games against teams in the 68-team field. Defense has been the Buckeyes’ strength all season. They started by holding teams to fewer than 70 points in 15 straight games. That has helped them have a scoring margin of plus-10.0, which ranks 19th in the country. Senior Aaron Craft is one of six finalists for the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award. Craft is the all-time Big Ten leader in steals with 333, and was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. He has 119 career wins, and is the Buckeyes’ all-time leader with 690 assists. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross leads the team with 14.8 points per game.
Outlook: The nerves of the big stage certainly shouldn’t rattle the Buckeyes, who have been here before. Dayton’s defense is only pedestrian, but if the Flyers can shoot the three the way they’re capable of, they’ll keep it close. Prediction: Ohio State 68, Dayton 64.
Tipoff: 12:15 p.m. Thursday • First Niagara Center • TV: Ch. 4 • Radio: TBA