Ohio State beat Syracuse to earn a trip to New Orleans this weekend. It looked like this was inevitable early in the season, after the Buckeyes pasted Duke in November they were #2 in the rankings and looking nearly unbeatable. Even after losing Diebler, Lighty and Buford folks were very bullish on OSU's chances to win the conference and make a run for the National Championship.
As is almost always the case, things didn't quite go as smoothly for OSU as it looked like it would in November. Jared Sullinger had some back pain that caused him to miss a couple of games. One of those games was against Kansas, their Final Four opponent, who handed OSU their first loss.
After that loss, they put won some games that were supposed to, before falling at Indiana. That loss was disappointing, but that was only IU's second-best win on the season, having beaten #1 Kentucky three weeks prior. The Buckeyes were still the favorites to win the conference, and everybody was gunning for them. Brandon Paul had the best offensive game of the Big Ten season, scoring 43 points to mark Bruce Weber's last big win of his Illini career.
Ohio State then handled Michigan and beat Wisconsin in a typical low-scoring affair at the Kohl Center. Purdue came to Columbus ready to play (offense at least), but the Buckeyes matched them score-for-score and pulled it out at the end.
Then came the worst stretch of the season. The Buckeyes lost their perfect home record, as the Spartans beat them 58-48. Another low-scoring effort led to a loss at Michigan, and the loss at home to Wisconsin was the low point of the season.
On the final game of the regular season, Sullinger and company went into East Lansing and came out with a win and a share of the conference title. Things were looking good headed into the BTT, and OSU rolled Purdue and Michigan to face MSU again in the finals. MSU won the rubber match and the BTT, and earned themselves the one-seed.
On Selection Sunday, Ohio State was awarded a two-seed in Syracuse's region. Shortly after the selections, Syracuse announced that Fab Melo was ineligible to play in the tournament. Many prognosticators then labeled the Orange the weakest one-seed, and they almost lost to UNC-Asheville in their first game. That seemed to wake them up, though and Syracuse was waiting for OSU in the Regional Finals on Saturday.
Ohio State's biggest scare in the tournament came against the Fighting Cincinnati Bearcats, who staged an impressive comeback in the second half of the Sweet Sixteen game after getting behind early. The Buckeyes answered with an impressive run to finish it out and win by a comfortable margin.
As you could read in almost any recap of the game, there were a lot of fouls called in the Syracuse game. Sullinger got two in the first five minutes and Matta benched him for the rest of the half. Teflon Jim Boeheim complained about the officiating in this game, even though he dismissed such concerns about questionable calls in the UNC-A game. Ohio State attacked the zone rather than being content shooting jump shots, and they were rewarded with a lot of free throws. They also hit most of them in the closing minutes, as Syracuse was fouling to try to stay in the game.
So that's a short version of how Ohio State made it to the National Semifinals. It will be interesting to see if their story ends on Saturday, or if they can celebrate one last championship to end the season.