The Madness of March is most definitely upon us now. I took an opportunity between the second round and the Sweet 16 to sit down with longtime Ohio State basketball beat writer Jeff Rapp about the tournament.
Jeff has launched a web site, www.SportsRappUp.com, which I highly recommend.
Jeff and I talk about the performances the Buckeyes turned in last weekend, in wins over UC Santa Barbara and Georgia Tech, and about the coming week’s game(s), first against Tennessee, and then, possibly, against Michigan State or Northern Iowa.
The Seth Shaner Podcast
Return of me, writing
I haven’t done much blogging lately. The past year has seen the rise of the podcast, and that has taken some of my extra time that I used to use for writing on this site. I thought I’d take this opportunity to reminisce about tournaments past, and about this OSU hoops season.
Ohio State basketball is one of my first loves, and it offers me something OSU football doesn’t. I feel I really get to know the players in each season. Possibly that’s due to the fact there are fewer basketball players than what makes up a football squad, and the fact there are two games a week from late November until tournament time in March.
It doesn’t mean I don’t love football, because I do, but the basketball season seems more like an epic tale than the weekly dates I get with the gridiron Buckeyes.
Following Evan Turner’s season, from him pulling down 17 rebounds in each of the first two games this season, to falling and breaking his back in December, to his triumphant return and subsequent charge through the Big Ten season for a regular season and tournament crown, has been great theater.
I’ve loved every minute, and I’m anxious to see it continue.
I first went to an NCAA tournament game in 1999. I had just returned from my first Big Ten tournament, and though I couldn’t get to the first-round game in Indianapolis against Murray State, I was able to go see the Buckeyes take on Detroit in the second round.
I drove to Indy with a classmate of mine, Brian Fulcher, known better in these parts as Fulch, or the NFL Pick ‘em champion from last football season. He and a friend of his rode with me to the tournament and we had a great time.
I got to rub elbows with media types, while watching OSU win its game.
The following week it was off to Knoxville for the Sweet 16. This time my roommates came along, and having no presumptions of victory, we had no plans to stay in Tennessee.
When the Buckeyes defeated Auburn, and I had secured a Charles Barkley autograph in the process, it was a whirlwind trip back to Ohio before heading right back to Knoxville for the game against St. John’s.
I remember sitting at midcourt watching the game with former OSU football player Ryan Miller on one side, and OSU hoops great Jay Burson on the other. I remember how happy all the Buckeyes players were, and the postgame dance with Jim O’Brien.
I remember Boban Savovic, now infamous in Buckeye lore, collapsing by himself at midcourt when all but one beat writer had left the floor. I remember calling my grandpa from one of the phones on press row, and being told by one beat writer, now radio host, that the call had better be collect.
The trip to St. Petersburg for the Final Four was also memorable. My roommate Randy and our friend Sarah were offered a substantial amount of money for their tickets, but Sarah wouldn’t sell. The game against UCONN was a blur, with victory just outside the inexperienced Buckeyes’ grasp.
The postgame locker room had a weird feeling to it, with players not ready to leave, and media likewise wishing the ride were sustained. There was a feeling like the ride didn’t have to end, and even though the following year’s team lost in the second round, to that point, it felt like a near replica of the ’99 squad should have no problem going back to the Final Four.
In 2001, my final season as a student on the student radio station, I called my first tourney game courtside, right behind the team’s bench. That was a memory. I worked out a deal with the national radio guys to hook into their court microphones, so I’d have sounds of squeaking shoes and the ball hitting the rim on the broadcast.
I remember Ken Johnson’s huge dunk to end the first half, but I also remember Utah State’s Bernard Rock keeping my final tournament run as a student from advancing, the victim of an all too familiar NCAA upset.
In 2007 I followed the team to the Final Four in Atlanta, this time as a writer. That was such a fun run as a fan, and then, too as a media member. You’re sitting on press row and Jim Tressel comes to a seat just behind you. Eddie George is off to the side cheering his alma mater on, and there were many more famous faces.
This year’s team seems so much more memorable to me than the ’07 one, despite the fact there’s less fanfare and talent. Perhaps it’s because everyone on this squad has been around two-plus years, with David Lighty the only holdover from that ’07 run. We’ve gotten to know all these players for a more sustained period of time.
Evan Turner continues to etch his name in stone alongside other OSU greats like Jerry Lucas and Jim Jackson, and yet one bad bounce could put an end to things.
What if that ’07 team had lost to Xavier, instead of coming up with the buzzer-beater by Ron Lewis that sent it into overtime?
It’s not the same sport, but how would Central Ohio look at Troy Smith if the ’06 football team had finished a wire-to-wire run atop the polls and beaten Florida in the national championship game? Remember how the city of Columbus loved Smith and his mates after the 42-39 win over Michigan, and the whole month of December was spent adoring that team?
That season became a lost one on just one night, and the same can happen in basketball, except to be considered elite, an NCAA basketball team must win six games in postseason play.
On this, the 50th anniversary of OSU’s only national title in basketball, here’s hoping that one shining moment comes again April 5, in Indy.
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