DAYTON — Ohio State is one of four Big Ten teams bound for the Sweet 16.
Can one of them end the league’s national title drought?
Buckeyes coach Thad Matta thinks so — and he’s not alone. While the Big Ten has won only two titles since 1987 and none since Michigan State cut down the nets in 2000, the league’s strength coupled with a wide-open field have many believing this could be the year.
Top-seeded Indiana, No. 2-seed OSU, No. 3 Michigan State, and No. 4 Michigan will represent the Big Ten at all four regionals this weekend.
"I think it's highly likely," Matta said of a Big Ten team winning the national championship. "I want to make sure I term this right. I don't want to get the Big Ten in trouble. I think there's a good chance. I really, really do."
Since 2000, every major power conference but the Big Ten and Pac-12 have claimed national titles. The Atlantic Coast Conference has won five, the Big East and Southeastern Conference have taken three apiece, and the Big 12 has one. The Big Ten is not far off, with Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio State all advancing to the title game over that span. But none closed the deal, including the Buckeyes against Florida in 2007.
"You go back to '07," Matta said, "and this is how my luck goes as a coach. We had one of the greatest teams in college basketball history, and we just happened to be playing the team that won the national championship the year before and had all five starters back.
"But you've got great teams in the Big Ten [this year]. There's no question in my mind. I speak from experience. These teams are battle-tested."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg may be a believer too. After the Buckeyes’ 78-75 victory over the Cyclones in Sunday’s third-round game at Dayton Arena, he said, "I think they’ve got a long way to go in this tournament."
BLOCK OR CHARGE? Aaron Craft’s winning shot wasn’t his only game-changing contribution. A disputed late charge he drew may have been the day’s second-biggest play.
OSU trailed 75-74 with 1:41 remaining when Iowa State’s Will Clyburn drove and scored but bowled over Craft, though replays showed Craft’s foot touched the restricted semicircle. The Cyclones argued for the blocking call to no avail.
"I spoke with the official, and determined the defender established legal guarding position outside the restricted area prior to the offensive player leaving the floor to start his shot," NCAA coordinator of men’s basketball officiating John Adams told a pool reporter afterward. "When asked, the official said he did not see the defender’s foot over the restricted area line. By rule, this is not a reviewable play."
NO REGRETS: Hoiberg called Iowa State’s defeat "heartbreaking," but expressed no regrets — including on how the Cyclones defended Craft’s game-winner.
He said he was fine with 6-foot-7 forward Georges Niang switching to guard Craft in the final seconds.
"We just wanted to keep [Craft] out of the paint," he said. "We wanted to make him take a tough, contested jump shot. We switched the ball-screen up high. We’re confident with anybody on the floor to move their feet and keep them out of the paint.
"That’s where Craft was most dangerous tonight, when he was getting in there and getting shots at the rim. You’ve got to take your hat off to him. The kid stepped up and made a big shot. That’s who he is. He’s been making those his entire time at Ohio State, but we contested it."