There is no rest for the weary and the Buckeyes won't have much time to prepare for the ninth seeded Xavier Musketeers on Saturday afternoon for a trip to San Antonio and the Sweet Sixteen.
"Obviously, we're happy to be here in the second round," Thad Matta said. "Tomorrow, we'll be playing a great basketball team in Xavier. I think when you get in these situations when you have a short turnaround, the guys have been good with the preparations. We'll lace them up tomorrow and hopefully come out and play well."
All sidebars aside it is going to be a match up of two talented teams that are eerily similar. Granted that Xavier does not have a player like center Greg Oden but outside of that both teams are built on the same philosophy.
"They're very similar to us," Matta said. "(They are) Very balanced attack, very deep. As I always say 'who's going to be the leading scorer tomorrow for Ohio State, I don't know.' I don't think Sean would know who is going to be his leading scorer tomorrow. I think that they take great care of the basketball, they execute their offense well, very sound defensively. Really that is what I hope people say about us."
Former Brookhaven (Ohio) guard Drew Lavender carried the Musketeers down the stretch against BYU and will pose problems for the Buckeyes. All of the players are aware what the senior guard means to the team and know that he can make things happen.
"Drew Lavender is an excellent player," Ivan Harris said. "He is very quick with the ball. He's a good penetrator that has worked really hard on his outside shot."
"He's a great player and is very quick," Mike Conley Jr. said. "He pretty much runs the team, and they run a lot of things through him. He causes problems on the fast break, so we're going to have to get back in transition in order to contain him."
Lavender shocked the Cougars Thursday night with a pair of floaters in the final minutes of the game, a shot that looks very similar to a shot that Conley has looked good on all season.
"I did notice that," Conley said. "I guess us little guys have to get it over the big people somehow. We both have that same style of play and it definitely works and it is effective and he uses it very well."
Xavier is far from a one-trick pony and if not for a 23-point outing by Justin Doellman or a 16 rebound night by Derrick Brown, Ohio State fans would be looking at BYU instead of the Musketeers as a second round opponent. The Buckeyes understand just how dangerous Saturday's game can be and the consequences of a loss.
"It is very important because if you lose you go home," Oden said. "Right now we are taking it all in and just playing some basketball and improving every game."
"They (Xavier) are really dangerous," Harris said. "A lot of people looked at them as a very dangerous team in this tournament. We have to come out from the start and play our game. We watched the film and this is an excellent team and we are concentrating on trying to advance as far as we can."
"We need to go out there and make plays," Ron Lewis said. "We know their plays and they know ours so it comes to what we do on the court. We need to do the little things like hustling after the basketball and making the extra effort."
Xavier will have they own keys to the game because trying to stop one facet of the Buckeye game will not get it done.
"We need to stop Mike Conley Jr. and control Greg Oden the best we can," Xavier guard Stanley Burrell said. "Conley doesn't get enough credit for what he does. If he gets chances to make everyone better, we're in trouble. Drew (Lavender) should be up for the challenge of playing both ends of the floor, and if he does that, we'll be there in the end."
But Lavender stands only a reported 5-foot-7 and will not draw the assignment to cover a player nearly a foot and a half taller. The duty to control the freshman center will fall upon other players to try and control Oden's presence.
"Oden's just a heck of a player, and if he gets great position close to the basket, he is almost unstoppable," Xavier guard Brandon Cole said. "We're going to have to push him off the block and stop easy baskets."
"(Stopping Oden) That is one of those things that is a little bit of a misconception because I think the greatness of Greg Oden is not just in offense, it's probably more on defense if you consider his shot-blocking ability," Xavier coach Sean Miller said. "The presence he has around the basket, and just how easy it is for him to rebound. On offense, he is very unselfish. How many points he gets per game with his back to the basket is not the whole issue with him. That's what makes them a great team."
This game will not be billed as the David vs. Goliath match-up like the game against Central Connecticut State but every team that faces Ohio State in the South Regional will be looking to knock off the No. 1 seed. Rupp Arena very well could transform from a pro-OSU crowd in game one to a hostile crowd in game two when fans of Xavier, Louisville and Texas A&M all pull against the top ranked team.
"At this stage of the season, I don't know if there are advantages or disadvantages," Matta said. "If there's an advantage for our team I think that it's the places that we've played, the schedule that we've played. As we set our schedule coming into this year, it was to get into some crazy environments on the road. And you just hope at that point the preparation for 33, 34 games has put you in a situation to play well tomorrow."
The Buckeyes didn't play their best game of the season last time out but it was a major improvement from the tired legs that seemed to emerge in the Big Ten tournament. What can Ohio State do to improve down the stretch run?
"I think we need to rebound better defensively," Conley said. "We have been out-rebounded offensively and defensively a few times this year. Rebounds really spark our fast break, and we like to run the ball. If we can do that, then it will make a big difference."
It's not about the coaches
When the south regional was revealed on Selection Sunday the possibility of a Xavier vs. Ohio State match-up was immediately thrown around. The possibility has turned into reality and because of that it appears that many have overshadowed the game on the court with the coaching sidebar and Thad Matta is not very happy about it.
"First of all, that's a sad approach to a storyline because it takes away from the players," Matta said. "Xavier's had an incredible season. I think we're a very good basketball team. I think that we've had a great basketball season. The fact that we're meeting tomorrow, it's another game. We're not changing the way we approach a game because I used to coach at the opponent's university."
Do the players believe that there is any special meaning for their coach in the game?
"Not really, it's another tournament game to him because he would be just as pumped if we were playing a different team tomorrow," Conley said. "He doesn't like to lose, he's a competitor so he's just looking to get on the court tomorrow and play 40 minutes of basketball."
The friendship between the two coaches goes beyond being assistants at Miami (Ohio) together though the two friends got off to a bit of a rocky start with Matta reporting late to work a camp.
"When Thad first came onto the staff at Miami I was already there," Miller said. "I actually hired him to work our summer camp. He almost didn't show up, as a matter of fact we had to call him and say, "Are you coming or not?' and I remember being upset just from the standpoint that he was screwing up my station rotation if he wasn't going to be there."
But once that issue was resolved the two became great friends and even roommates to a certain degree for a period of time.
"I think a lot of him and his family," Miller said. "When I first came to Xavier my family had no place to go and my wife was pregnant with our third son and we lived with Thad for about a month. So to say that I am a fan of his and a friend would be an understatement."
Matta joked with the media that he had been scouting Xavier all season long just in case the two teams would meet up in the post-season and tried to keep his longtime friend in the dark about his motives.
"We thought this was a really viable option that we could play these guys," Matta said. "Because of the seeding and where we thought we would be with the pod system. So we've been calling Sean all year having him send us stuff just in case he never caught on to what we were doing."
Regardless of the outcome both coaches have come out and said that if their own team loses the game on Saturday afternoon they hope that the other team goes on to win the national championship. But when Matta was asked if he would rather play a different team in the tournament he said he would but not for the reason of a friendship being involved.
"More so because they are really good, I would rather be playing someone else." Matta joked.
"Coach is doing a good job of holding his composure because he knows just how much people have been talking about him lately," Conley said. "He's just focused on the game at hand."
If things would have gone a little differently the twosome of Greg Oden and Michael Conley Jr. may have never set foot in Columbus. When Thad Matta moved from Xavier to Ohio State the interest of both players shifted from one school to the other because of the head coach.
"He (Matta) was one of the first coaches that recruited us when he was at Xavier," Conley said. "We went down there to visit so it was a definite option back then when he was at Xavier because of the kind of person he was and a coach so if hadn't have moved it could have turned out a little different."
So if Matta were still coaching at Xavier would both players still be playing for That Matta just at a different location?
"He's a great coach and he's a great guy," Oden said. "He really was the first thing that got me attracted to Ohio State so if he was there it could have been a possibility."
Oden having fun
Most fans don't get the opportunity to hear Greg Oden speak about much more than his performance on the basketball court and because of that don't have the opportunity to realize that the freshman center has a good sense of humor.
Oden was asked by one of the national media about how his history of Rock and Roll class was coming along and what the class was studying at this point.
"I'm done," Oden said. "I've forgotten everything about the history of Rock 'n Roll already (laughter). So I am just enjoying my spring break."
Another reporter asked Oden what he thought about the Xavier fans booing their former coach when he took the court during Ohio State's first round game.
"I don't know, I was in the locker room," Oden said. "I didn't want them getting on me so I just stayed in the locker room."
One last exchange happened when Oden was asked about showing off his range and spotting up for some mid-range jump shots. Can we expect to see Oden try anymore jumpers during the tournament?
"I missed both of those horribly so I think I am going to just forget about those two," Oden said. "I have confidence in my jump shot; I shoot a lot of them so maybe when I get some open looks I might have confidence to hit that but from these past two I don't think I will be shooting any anytime soon."
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