The selection committee made Ohio State sweat, waiting until the last segment of CBS' Selection Sunday special to reveal its destination for the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes ended up as the No. 10 seed in the West Region, and will play 7th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in Portland on Thursday.
This marks the seventh consecutive trip to the Big Dance for Thad Matta and Ohio State. The 10th seed is the lowest during Matta's tenure.
VCU is in the field after defeating Dayton for the Atlantic-10 tournament championship, following a fourth place finish in the conference's regular season. The Rams, coached by Shaka Smart, are making their fifth consecutive appearance in the tourney, and are forever remembered for their run to the Final Four as a play-in team in 2011.
The A-10 champs are led by senior Traevon Graham and junior Melvin Johnson. The 6-foot-6 Graham, who was named MVP of the A-10 tourney, averaged better than 15 points per game for the third consecutive season, leading the team with 16.2 a night and a team-high 6.8 rebounds. Johnson adds 12.4 points.
"I haven't seen [VCU] a ton this year," senior Sam Thompson said after the seeds were revealed on Sunday. "I was a fan when they made their deep run [in 2011]."
The Buckeyes, led by All-American freshman D'Angelo Russell and his 19.3 points, 5.6 boards, and 5.1 assists per game, went 23-10 this year, including an 11-7 record in the Big Ten. Matta's squad lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament to eventual runner-up Michigan State.
Ohio State lost two of its last three games to end the season, including the 76-67 loss to the Spartans in Chicago and a 72-48 drubbing at home on Senior Day to eventual No. 1 seed Wisconsin. Inconsistent play and struggles away from Value City Arena plagued the Buckeyes all season long.
Should Ohio State pull out a victory against VCU, the chance of making the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth time under Matta looks pretty slim. The Buckeyes probable opponent on Saturday in the Moda Center would be second-seeded Arizona. The Wildcats, who went 31-3 en route to winning the Pac-12 regular season and tournament championships, are coached by former Matta protege Sean Miller, who's brother, Archie, was responsible for the Buckeyes' early exit last March.
The three leading scorers for Arizona are all likely to play at the next level, and would pose serious difficulties for Ohio State. The trio of freshman Stanley Johnson, junior Brandon Ashley, and sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have length and athleticism, and average 37.3 points and 18.8 rebounds per game collectively.
The heart and soul of the Wildcats, though, is senior point guard T.J. McConnell. The Pittsburgh native averages just a shade under 10 points and a Pac-12-best 6.4 assists, but his hustle and tenacity make him the fuel that propels Miller's squad forward.
The remainder of the bottom half of the West Region bracket, should the Buckeyes improbably make it to the second weekend, includes the likes of Baylor and Xavier. Wisconsin is the top seed out West, which also includes North Carolina, Arkansas, and Oregon.
Matta is making trips to the NCAA tournament old hat for fans of the scarlet and gray, but this looks to be the second straight season where an early departure awaits. The Buckeyes will have their hands full with VCU, and face an uphill battle from there to make any kind of run this season.
"We're excited," Thomson said. "This is the best time of the year. This is what came to Ohio State to do. We feel like we have been given new life."