Ohio State was bestowed the honor of being selected overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament after winning the Big Ten Conference Tournament last Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Buckeyes’ 71-60 victory over Penn State was never in doubt, and helped bolster Ohio State’s case as being the best team in the land, and its league second-best behind the Big East, which landed a record 11 clubs in the 68-team tourney.
The other No. 1 seeds are defending national champion Duke, Kansas and Pittsburgh, but the trophy really is up for grabs, with most believing there isn’t a truly great team in the bunch.
If the Buckeyes (32-2) run the table and claim a title, maybe they’ll be viewed differently, but for now they’re the closest thing to a powerhouse, having lost only two road games.
“I’m so happy for this team,’’ said Ohio State Head Coach Thad Matta. “I think we’re the best team out there, and I think we deserve to be the overall number one seed.”
It’s called “March Madness,’’ and with good reason, since unlike the NBA, one loss and your season is over.
UCLA (22-10) and USC (19-14) each made the field, and was in action this week with the Bruins facing Michigan State on Thursday, and the Trojans playing Virginia Commonwealth on Wednesday.
UCLA didn’t help itself by falling to Oregon in the quarterfinals, 76-59, of the Pacific 10 Tournament with Bruin forward Tyler Honeycutt scoring 19 points, but USC made some noise by drilling California, 70-56, behind guard Maurice Jones’s 16 points before losing to Arizona, 67-62, in the semifinals as Wildcat forward Derrick Williams dropped in 20 points.
Arizona and Washington from the Pac-10 also secured spots, and with some luck, could advance to the second round and perhaps beyond.
The Buckeyes have what it takes to reach the title game, namely an inside presence and perimeter shooters William Buford (18 points), Jon Diebler (15 points) and David Lighty (eight points).
Jared Sullinger is Ohio State’s best player, as he tallied 15 points with 11 rebounds against the Nittany Lions.
A freshman power forward, Sullinger was held to six points and six boards in the opening half before coming alive offensively in the second half.
Ohio State took the Big Ten regular-season crown and led 8-6 with 15:55 left in the first half, before stretching its lead to 16-8 with 11:17 showing.
Penn State (19-14) closed within 22-15 and 7:44 left in the opening half, and made it 22-19 with just under four minutes left on the clock.
Ohio State went on a 6-4 spurt, with Diebler (10 points at the half) draining a three-pointer at the buzzer as the Buckeyes, who scored 12 points in the paint compared to four for Penn State after 20 minutes, held a 29-23 edge at the half.
Diebler canned a three-pointer and Sullinger scored a hoop to begin the second half as Ohio State took a 38-29 lead with slightly less than six minutes having elapsed.
Penn State fell behind 46-29 with 12:29 remaining, and 55-38 with 7:11 left on the clock.
The Nittany Lions made the field and roared back, outscoring Ohio State 6-2 to make it 57-44 and 6:28 left. It became 60-47 with 3:55 showing, and 68-58 with 40 seconds left.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.