Ohio State's Dallas Lauderdale, left, and Jordan Sibert talk in the locker room after practice Saturday. The Buckeyes face George Mason Sunday.CLEVELAND — By the time a team reaches the third round of the NCAA tournament, there are no wolves disguised by sheep's clothing left, according to Ohio State senior Dallas Lauderdale. Any team that has won a game in the event has earned the respect and attention of its opposition.
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"After a team comes out and beats somebody to advance in this tournament, they can't really call it that Cinderella thing any more," Lauderdale said Saturday just before the Buckeyes (33-2) went through a practice session at Quicken Loans Arena in advance of Sunday's NCAA game against George Mason (27-6).
"They're trying to make a name for themselves, just like every other team in the NCAA tournament. They wouldn't be here if they weren't a good team."
George Mason made a magical run to the Final Four in 2006, and the notoriety gained from that string of success carries on to this day. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger was in junior high at the time, but he knew about George Mason's historic wins over Michigan State, North Carolina, and UConn on the way to the Final Four.
"The element of surprise is gone," Sullinger said. "They've won some big games, so everybody knows George Mason is a very good team."
George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, a former head coach at Bowling Green State University, said Ohio State's offensive production of better than 77 points per game concerns him. The Buckeyes have a multitude of offensive options, all of which have been tapped multiple times this season.
"They're a very hard team to guard," Larranaga said. "They're going to score some points, so we've got to figure out a way to match them in that category. Our defense needs to be at its very best on first shots."
The Patriots won 16 straight games before losing in the championship game of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. After beating Villanova in Friday's first round NCAA game, George Mason has won 17 of its last 18 games, losing just once since Jan. 8.
LIKE ITS 2006: The 2010-11 version of George Mason has been operating in the immense shadow of the 2005-06 Patriots team that beat Michigan State, North Carolina, and UConn on its way to the Final Four. Sophomore forward Luke Hancock, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Villanova, said the reminders are constant.
"Every single interview. And anything we do, we're compared," Hancock said Saturday from Quicken Loans Arena. "But we're trying to make our own name, trying to do our own thing. We'd like to have people talking about us instead."
HOME GAME: When Ohio State faced Texas-San Antonio in the Buckeyes' first game of the NCAA tournament, the crowd of 20,174 was overwhelmingly scarlet and gray. OSU freshman Aaron Craft said the Buckeye nation was out in full force.
"If you closed your eyes and listened to the cheers, it sounded like we were in Columbus," Craft said. "That was awesome."
TV TIME: The format for the NCAA tournament calls for extra long television timeouts, and the role of those extended breaks as momentum thieves is a concern for Ohio State coach Thad Matta.
"We've talked about it with our guys. And I've told them: The NCAA tournament is set up to steal your momentum if you let it," Matta said.
He pointed out the quirks of the system that can have a coach call timeout, it takes three minutes for commercials, then after 20 seconds runs off the game clock, the action is stopped again for a "media" timeout, and there's another three-minute break.
"You've got to keep the focus, you've got to keep the attention span going," Matta said. "I need fast pace. I need it moving. So it wears on me a little bit, but, believe me, I completely understand why we do it."
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.