COLUMBUS — Jordan Sibert could not shake his wide-eyed smile.
What were the odds?
The Dayton guard who transferred from Ohio State in search of more playing time now had the chance of his basketball career. Inside a small room in the Flyers’ practice facility, as the team learned they would play OSU in the NCAA tournament, the players roared and moshed and piled on.
Dayton was headed to the Big Dance for the first time in five years, and few were more wired than the hoops-mad school’s new star.
“Just to be able to get in the tournament is a blessing,” Sibert told reporters. “Then to see it was against Ohio State. The whole thing is exciting. I’m really at a loss for words.”
In a compelling quirk of the bracket, the sixth-seeded Buckeyes (25-9) will be matched Thursday in Buffalo against just the old face they could have used this March.
Wondering where Ohio State’s shooting went? One answer is 70 miles west.
While much is made of the Ohioans the Buckeyes have let get away — former Michigan star and reigning national player of the year Trey Burke (Columbus), All-Big Ten Wolverines guard Caris LeVert (Pickerington) and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes (Toledo) — they hit and missed on Sibert. OSU landed the four-star recruit from Cincinnati only to watch him flourish with the Flyers (23-10).
After sitting last season because of NCAA transfer rules, the 6-foot-4 junior has averaged a team-high 12.5 points and shot 43.9 percent from beyond the arc (75 of 171) — second in the Atlantic 10. He leads a deep roster that has wins over tourney teams Gonzaga, UMass, and Saint Louis.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta leaves revisionist historians with little to nitpick. The Buckeyes consistently foray deep into March, advancing to two Final Fours since 2007 and the tourney’s second weekend each of the last four years. A top-five national recruiting class will arrive next fall.
This year’s roster is incomplete. The Buckeyes must grind offensively, lacking both an effective inside presence and the shooters to stretch the defense. They are shooting 32.6 percent on 3s.
Has Matta ever wondered how much Sibert could help?
“No,” he said. “He’s doing his thing, and he’s doing it well. It’s one of those that doesn’t really cross my mind too often.”
Besides, maybe Sibert needed the change. As a sophomore two years ago, he was a regular during the first half of the Buckeyes’ Final Four season. But as his touch faded — Sibert shot 30.4 percent overall — so did his time. He did not play in 14 of OSU’s last 18 games, losing his minutes entirely to then-freshman Sam Thompson and sophomore Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Sibert left after the season
“He said, ‘Look I want to play a lot,’ and he’s definitely getting to do that,” Matta said. “He’s having a great career. As long as everybody’s happy with what they’re doing and where they are, I’m happy for them.”
As are Sibert’s former teammates.
“I guess things really didn’t pan out for him as well as it did for me,” Smith said. “I was just the fortunate one to get that starting position and remain here and play. ... But then again, I’m pretty sure he’s happy with his decision, and he’s looking forward to playing us.”
More than you could imagine. As former Buckeyes transfer and Ohio University star Walter Offutt wrote on Twitter, “Jordan Sibert gets a dream that every transfer wants.”
Sibert betrayed no ill will toward the Buckeyes but called the chance in-state showdown a “blessing.”
“We’re all excited to have this matchup,” he said.