Ohio State forward Matt Sylvester scores the winning points for the Buckeyes in the final minute.
INDIANAPOLIS - The only Big Ten team the Ohio State Buckeyes have not beaten this season is Iowa - the same Iowa Ohio State will face this afternoon in the championship game of the conference tournament.
The Buckeyes, the regular- season champs in the Big Ten, lost their only meeting of the year with the Hawkeyes, a 67-62 outcome in Iowa City in late January.
"It's going to be a tough matchup with Iowa," Ohio State senior Terence Dials said. "All of these games are physical, and we expect that will be a physical game too."
Iowa (24-8) got to the title game by downing Michigan State in yesterday's other semifinal. Ohio State (25-4) is believed to have a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if it can dispatch the Hawkeyes and win another conference crown.
"The players, they are aware of the NCAA situation," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "I know this sounds crazy coming from a coach, but I don't follow college basketball that much. I'm a little oblivious to it all. I know what the Buckeyes are doing all of the time. It would be a tremendous honor for us if we got that."
Matta credited his team with outdistancing the expectations of most by winning the Big Ten and putting themselves in position to gain a top seed in the NCAA.
"The position they've put themselves in this year - they took an old school way to get there," Matta said.
"Nobody gave us much chance, but these kids just kept climbing and climbing and climbing, all year long."
SHOOTING BLANKS: Ohio State senior guard Je'Kel Foster, mired in an unbelievable shooting slump, got a vote of confidence from his coach yesterday. Foster, who has hit just seven of his last 53 tries from 3-point range, went 0-for-11 from the field yesterday and 0-for-9 from 3-point land.
"I don't care if he goes 0-for-100 tomorrow, I'm gonna ride him," Matta said.
Foster, a junior college transfer who has played just two seasons in Columbus, played 37 minutes yesterday, and had two points on free throws, and six rebounds.
"I feel good, because at this point of the year we're only worried about W's and L's," he said, referring to wins and losses. "I'm struggling with my shot a little bit, but my teammates and coaches are all behind me. It's amazing how much confidence they all have in me."
CHAMPIONSHIP CENTRAL: When the Ohio State men's team won the Big Ten regular season championship last week, the Buckeyes completed an unprecedented triple - Big Ten titles in men's basketball, women's basketball and in football, all in the same school year. It was a first in the history of the Big Ten.
MORE NCAA FALLOUT: In the wake of Friday's announcement of the NCAA findings in its investigation of violations inside the Ohio State athletic department, some of the fine print showed Matta that the monolithic NCAA really does have a heart.
The ruling wipes out the NCAA Tournament accomplishments of the Buckeyes for the 1999-2002 period, and those banners hanging in Value City Arena will have to come down. But the individual records of Ohio State players will remain intact, except those of former Buckeye Boban Savovic, who was involved in numerous improprieties. Matta was glad players like Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd were not punished.
"Those guys didn't have anything to do with it," Matta said. "Once of the biggest battle cries I will be on throughout my speaking tours and anytime I can address the Buckeye fans is that I don't want Michael Redd, Scoonie Penn and the guys involved on that team to be looked at as if they were part of something bad. They have made Ohio State proud and continue to make Ohio State proud. I don't ever want them to be tarnished whatsoever for what they did or what they didn't do."