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Published: Sunday, 3/18/2012

COMMENTARY

Happy or not, OSU is here

Buckeyes have right to be irked

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE COLUMNIST

BOWLING GREEN -- Jim Foster and his Ohio State Buckeyes say they are happy to be here, here being the opening rounds of the NCAA women's basketball tournament at the Stroh Center.

Of course, they're lying through their teeth.

Nothing against the where, mind you. It's more the how, the why, and the what.

All of that is prompted by a No. 8 regional seed that blindsided just about everybody when the brackets were announced early last week. It set OSU up for one of those dangerous 8 vs. 9 matchups against Florida in Sunday afternoon's opener and, possibly, a second-round test against Baylor, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

Foster, the Buckeyes' veteran head coach, described the perceived slight as "egregious" moments after his team's fate was announced.

By Saturday, having had five days to reflect, his blood pressure was back to within normal ranges, and he measured his words while visiting with the media. But he's still not a happy man.

"I'm just curious from a historical perspective … has there ever been a team that was 8-4 against the top 50 RPI [teams] seeded eighth?" Foster asked. "And, if not, why a history-making decision?"

That may have been part of the telephone conversation Foster had Saturday morning with Greg Christopher, the athletic director at host Bowling Green and, not coincidentally, the chairman of the NCAA women's selection committee.

"I'll keep the conversation between Greg and myself personal," Foster said.

Christopher, who was in Indianapolis Saturday, was a bit more forthcoming during a phone conversation with The Blade. He acknowledged OSU's seeding was adjusted for geographic reasons.

"We do move teams up a line or down a line or along a line for a number of reasons, geography being one of them," Christopher said. "We don't hide that. It's in our policy and procedures manual. Coaches know about it. Ohio State was simply a geographic shift to get them [to a site] as close to their campus as possible."

Christopher said he could understand eyebrows being raised over both Baylor and Ohio State landing at a site being hosted by Christopher's school.

"No one has said anything, but I guess I could understand a conversation like that," he said. "The committee's priority as we built brackets was to protect the No. 1 seeds and put them at neutral sites, not playing at a site where a lower-seeded team was hosting. That's why Stanford was sent east to Norfolk, and it is how Baylor came to be in Bowling Green."

Christopher said he and Foster agreed to meet at a future date in Columbus and that he would provide the coach with details of how the committee determined where the Buckeyes fit in the bracket.

Some of the explanation might be that the team's 5-5 finish negated much of its 20-1 start. It dropped OSU in the national polls too, but the AP voters still rated the Buckeyes as the 16th best team in the nation in the final regular-season ranking. Had the NCAA committee agreed, it probably would have translated to a No. 4 seed.

"The committee members use between 10 and 15 factors to evaluate and distinguish between teams, so a lot of things enter the discussion," Christopher said.

In the meantime, Ohio State's players will proceed with very large chips on their shoulders.

"We're here, and we gotta play," said senior guard Samantha Prahalis, the Big Ten's player of the year. "Those were the cards we were dealt. I mean it was disrespectful, but we are here, [and] we have got to play."

Junior guard Tayler Hill added: "We have been disrespected since the beginning of the season, so it's nothing new for us."

At season's start, OSU was considered among the Big Ten's middle of the pack and was unranked in the major polls.

Over the next 31 games, 26 of them wins, Foster and his players thought they had proved otherwise.

Now, with the deck perhaps stacked against them, the Buckeyes will play the Florida/Baylor cards dealt by the selection committee.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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