"It puts us up there, so everybody will be gunning for us as the No. 1 seed, but it's really no different than what we've seen all year long," junior William Buford said after scoring 18 points to lead the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes to a 71-60 win over Penn State.
"We've had a big target on our backs all season, being No. 1 and all, so we will expect the same in the NCAA tournament. You can call it pressure, but it's the same thing we've seen all year. Only now, you've got to be right every night. It's win or go home, once you make the NCAA tournament."
The Buckeyes (32-2) will face the winner of Wednesday night's game at the University of Dayton Arena. That match-up has Southland Conference tournament champion Texas-San Antonio (19-13) facing Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament champion Alabama State (17-17) for the right to meet No. 1 Ohio State in Cleveland on Friday.
"At this point we don't know anything about who we play, but it's really about getting ourselves ready," senior Dallas Lauderdale said. "If we prepare and play the way we are capable of, things will take care of themselves in Cleveland. We know the stakes -- if you don't do it right, it's over. You have to play well every time."
"When you look across the country at all the great teams, I give our guys a lot of credit," Matta said. "They came ready to play now for 34 games, and probably the hardest thing I think we've found this year was the effort that teams give to beat you each night. I think that says something about these guys."
With the top seed the Buckeyes get to play close to home in the first two rounds, and they expect to have a large following at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday.
"Playing in Ohio, that's great," said senior David Lighty, a Cleveland native. "But that doesn't give us any points. All that means is we'll have a lot of Buckeyes fans on hand. The rest is up to us, keeping our focus, and doing the things that got us here."
Freshman Aaron Craft said that despite the three wins in Indianapolis and the Big Ten tournament championship that the Buckeyes were awarded, he senses the team will take a critical look at itself as it prepares for the NCAA.
"This feels great, winning the Big Ten tournament, but as a group we feel like we need to be playing our best basketball when we get to the NCAA, and nobody's ready to say we're there yet," Craft said. "Certainly there are things we need to do better, and that's what we'll go to work on this week in practice."
Matta, who took the Buckeyes all the way to the NCAA title game in the 2006-07 season and had them in the Sweet 16 last year, said he likes the pattern of success, but he concedes the road gets a lot tougher from this point on.
"In terms of our program, we've been there seven years now, and we've been a No. 1 seed twice and we've been a 2 seed twice, and to get the overall No. 1, I think it's a great honor now," Matta said. "But as I'll tell those guys, when we get back to Columbus, it's not going to score a point for us or get a rebound
for us. Now, you've got to go out and defend it."
If Ohio State moves on after the first round of the NCAA, it would face the winner of Friday's George Mason (26-6)/Villanova (21-11) match-up in Sunday's second round.
Lauderdale, one of three senior starters for the Buckeyes, said there is a sense of relief having reached this point in his career and a desire to have it all end with the biggest prize of all -- the NCAA title.
"This is it -- the last goal," Lauderdale said. "It can't be over. With everything we've accomplished, our season wouldn't mean as much if we don't win the national championship. We start working on that this week."
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Ohio State will face Texas-San Antonio or Alabama State Friday in Cleveland.