The Buckeyes have yet to fire on all cylinders in the NCAA tournament. Friday night they will play the Tennessee Volunteers in the sweet sixteen. The last time these two teams met - it was in the sweet sixteen in 2007. Ohio State narrowly pulled out a 85-84 victory when Mike Conley hit a free-throw with 6 seconds remaining in the game - erasing the final piece of a 17 point halftime deficit. That was the second amazing comeback in-a-row for the Buckeyes as they rallied from a 9 point deficit with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game against Xavier 5 days earlier.
The following season, after a freshman exodus(Cook, Conley, Oden), the Buckeyes looked to be rebuilding. They were left out of the 'Big Dance' in 2008 despite their 20 win regular season. Matta and his Buckeyes didn't quit however, and played inspired basketball to win the NIT. In 2009 Ohio State fell 74-72 to Siena, and went packing after just one game.
It has become appearant that Ohio State is not just a football school. The Glory days of the late 60's rekindled - Matta and his Buckeyes have managed 5 straight 20 win seasons, do not start any seniors, and bring in the nations #1 recruiting class next season.
What was originally thought to be a tough draw in the midwest with teams like Michigan St., Kansas, and Maryland in thier region - has now softened with Northern Iowa's upset over Kansas, Maryland's departure, and the injury to Michigan St. guard Kalin Lucas. Ohio State is now the favorite in the region, and will look for their 30th win of the season on Friday at 7:07 in St. Louis.
Both Ohio State and Tennessee have had their fair share of adversity this season. Ohio State's came when star Evan Turner fell nearly nine-feet after a slam attempt against Eastern Michigan - breaking his back in two-places. Tennessee's came when four players decided to celebrate the new year with guns, drugs, and stolen goods. In hindsite, nobody expected either team to be in this position - at least not in January when Ohio State was 11-5 and dead last in the BigTen, and Tennessee was looking to replace 4 of their top 8 contributors.
All the credit in the world goes to the two coaches, Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, and Ohio State's Thad Matta, for keeping both runaway trains on track. Now the teams will face each other for an appearance in the Elite Eight.
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