NCAA tourney pits Ohio showdown in Ohio State vs. Dayton

JOHN WAWROW AP Sports Writer Published:

By John Wawrow | Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Dayton coach Archie Miller has known Ohio State's Thad Matta long enough to not be fooled by his mentor's friendly, outgoing demeanor.

"You know how it is. He'll walk around with a smile on his face," Miller said Wednesday. "But he's going to try to stomp your head in the first chance you get."

Miller then broke into a smile and referred to Matta as "a good guy," while acknowledging how special it was to spend two seasons working as Matta's assistant at Columbus.

As if the so-called "Battle of Ohio" needed further subplots with Ohio State (25-6), the South Region's sixth seed, preparing to face 11th-seeded Dayton (23-10) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo on Thursday.

The coaches have known each other for some 20 years, since Matta was an assistant at Miami, Ohio, and first came across Miller in elementary school. Dayton's starting guard Jordan Sibert spent two seasons with the Buckeyes before transferring to Dayton.

And then there's the little matter of in-state bragging rights on the line between two schools separated by 75 miles.

Matta called the Buckeye state buzz a little overstated.

"I think people want to put tags on situations," Matta said. "But for us, and for Dayton, you win or you go home. There's not a whole lot more than that."

It's a little different from Dayton's perspective, in what Miller referred to as a "big brother-little brother" relationship between his Atlantic 10 Conference school and a Big Ten powerhouse.

"Everyone understands in the state of Ohio, what it's about in that state: That's Columbus. It's a powerful, powerful place," the 34-year-old Miller said, in his third season at Dayton.

"We feel like we've earned the right to be here. And regardless if it was Ohio State or somebody else, we have to prepare to be ourselves, not who we play, and not what part of the state they live in," Miller said.

MAC's Western Michigan looking to stun Syracuse

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- C.J. Fair was a loser on Senior Day in the Carrier Dome and in the only Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game he'll ever play. Enough already for Syracuse's smooth-shooting swingman.

Fair and the Orange (27-5), the third seed in the South, have a chance to set things straight again when they face No. 14 Western Michigan (22-9), champion of the Mid-American Conference, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

"It could be my last game, but as a team we want to prolong the season, not get it get cut short," Fair, the Orange's leading scorer (16.7), said Wednesday. "Hopefully, we win tomorrow, get the first game under our belt, and we can get it going."

The Broncos are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade and fourth in school history, and they have experience on their side. They're led by a pair of fifth-year seniors -- 6-foot-11 center Shayne Whittington and guard David Brown -- and 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Connar Tava.

Brown led the MAC with 19.4 points per game and earned MVP of the conference tournament after scoring a career-high 32 points that included five 3-pointers in the final against Toledo. Whittington averaged 16.3 points and 9.1 rebounds during the regular season, while Tava was second in the conference in shooting at 60.4 percent and led the team with 90 assists.

Sort of the perfect combination to wreak some havoc on the Orange's 2-3 zone, which was instrumental a year ago in their run to the Final Four.

"We pride ourselves in our inside-out game, getting the ball in the paint," Whittington said. "So, developing that and getting their mind on that early, maybe it will help them sink a little bit so we can have a few 3-pointers."

Last March, Indiana was like most of the nonconference teams on Syracuse's schedule, not used to seeing Orange coach Jim Boeheim's trademark defense, and it showed. The team that finished third in the country in scoring (79.5 points per game) lost 61-50 as Syracuse limited the top-seeded Hoosiers to their lowest output of the season.

Fast forward a year, and that advantage probably isn't what it used to be, and both teams know it. Syracuse is still stingy on defense, allowing 59.5 points per game, but the zone has gotten around.

"I believe probably everyone in this tournament played against a team that ran the zone at some point," Fair said. "I don't think it gives us an advantage."

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.