Buckeyes won’t look past NIU
COLUMBUS — When Northern Iowa crumpled up and tossed America’s brackets in the trash by knocking off top-seeded Kansas last week, it figured to benefit someone.
The Ohio State Buckeyes, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional, hope it works to their advantage somewhere down the road.
For now, however, they have their hands full with sixth-seeded Tennessee in the round of 16 on Friday night in St. Louis.
“We definitely thought it was crazy that it happened,” star guard Evan Turner said of the Jayhawks’ shocking 69-67 upset loss in the second round. “But it kind of got us geared into thinking it can happen to anybody. Definitely, anybody can lose. We just really focused on ourselves. We weren’t like, ’Yes! Kansas is out!”’
With only 16 teams left, there aren’t any pretenders. Ninth-seeded Northern Iowa meets No. 5 Michigan State in the other half of the St. Louis bracket.
Still, Ohio State coach Thad Matta conceded that the Jayhawks’ absence might come to mind if his team makes it to the regional final.
“If you get to that position on Sunday, maybe you allow yourself to say, ’Kansas isn’t here,”’ he said Wednesday. “But you’re still playing a team that beat Kansas, or the team that beat the team that beat Kansas. So they have to be pretty good, too.”
And the Buckeyes know they can’t afford to worry about what’s going on elsewhere.
“If you’re going to win a national title, you’ve got to beat the best of the best,” Turner said. “We just have to take care of business. Northern Iowa played a great game. They showed up for 40 minutes and got the job done.”
Kansas’ defeat is a cautionary tale for most of the top teams. That could have been US, they’re thinking, just happy to have survived the first weekend of the tournament.
So far, Ohio State has had blinders on in the NCAAs.
“Our team’s been really good at that so far,” shooting guard Jon Diebler said. “Because with what has happened in the tournament, anyone can beat anybody on any given night. That doesn’t mean that Northern Iowa is a better team than Kansas, but that night they were. So, again, we know we have a great opportunity right now, but at the same time we have a great team that we have to play against to get there.”