Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop, left, and forward Jae'Sean Tate celebrate after defeating Michigan State earlier this season. The Buckeyes are a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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COLUMBUS — It was a formality that the NCAA tournament selection committee would place Ohio State in its 68-team field, but the Buckeyes took nothing for granted Sunday at Value City Arena.
The committee seeded the Buckeyes as a No. 5 and sent them to Boise, Idaho, where they will play Summit League champion South Dakota State, a No. 12. The Buckeyes and Jackrabbits will play at 3:50 p.m. Thursday at Taco Bell Arena on the campus of Boise State University.
An Ohio State program that has not played in the tournament since 2015 has a date, a location, and an opponent, and that was not lost on anyone during a watch party on OSU’s home floor.
“I haven’t watched it in two years,” Buckeyes forward Keita Bates-Diop said of the selection show. “I haven’t paid attention to it. I didn’t watch tournament games like that the past couple years because, when you play in college and you come to a school like this, you want to play. You don’t want to sit at home watching the first-round games.”
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The 5 vs. 12 game is infamous for upsets — the No. 5 seed is 13-11 in the past six NCAA tournaments — and South Dakota State presents an intriguing matchup for the Buckeyes.
The Jackrabbits (28-6) finished the season with an offensive efficiency rating of 114.6 per 100 possessions, making them one of the top offenses of any mid-major school. Forward Mike Daum averaged a double-double of 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds, and OSU coach Chris Holtmann said he thinks Daum is an NBA-caliber player.
The few Buckeyes who have experienced the tournament before have their guard up.
“It’s so much different,” Buckeyes senior forward Jae’Sean Tate said of the tournament. “It was an atmosphere I’ve only experienced one time, and it’s me and Keita’s job, the older’s guys’ job, to prepare the younger guys in knowing it’s March, anything can happen, and everybody’s good.”
Ohio State finished the regular season 24-8, finished in second place in the Big Ten, and enter the NCAA tournament ranked 20th in RPI.
By the time the Buckeyes tip off against the Jackrabbits, 13 days will have passed since their previous game March 2 in the Big Ten tournament in New York.
Ohio State practiced during the layoff, and Holtmann said his video crew started preparations for every possible No. 11 or No. 12 seed.
“It’s great to finally have an opponent to prepare for,” Holtmann said. “I think our guys have a great appreciation for [and] an understanding of how well you need to play in this thing. … Let the sleepless nights begin.”
The winner of the Ohio State-South Dakota State game will play the winner of Gonzaga vs. UNC-Greensboro on Saturday. Gonzaga beat OSU 86-59 earlier this year in a neutral-site game.
But after two seasons of watching the NCAA tournament, the elder Buckeyes said they are ready for the opportunity to play in it again.
“I think that I’m using that as motivation and really taking in the moment that my next game, my last collegiate game, if we lose,” Tate said. “Not being able to play, just sitting around and watching people live out their dreams, it has to make you hungry.”
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