The Ohio State Buckeyes kick off their 2012 seeded Loyola-Maryland in second-round action from the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Ohio State will be seeking redemption on two levels in this year's Big Dance. The Buckeyes are fresh off a disappointing 68-64 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference Tournament championship and need to wipe away the stain of last year's ouster by Kentucky in the regional semifinals as the East Region's No. 1 seed. However, Ohio State is hardly a charity case, having amassed a sturdy 13-5 mark in the Big Ten this season to serve as co-champions of the regular season alongside the Spartans and Michigan. OSU finished 27-7 overall and is making its 24th appearance in this event, holding a solid 41-22 record in tournament play. The Buckeyes have made nine trips to the Final Four and reached the championship game four times, winning their lone national championship in 1960. The program most recently played for the championship in 2007, losing out to Florida. OSU had won four straight games before slipping up against the Spartans Sunday, knocking off Purdue and Michigan to reach the title match. Not to be ignored is the Buckeyes' non-conference slate, which includes a pair of wins against Duke and Florida and a loss to Kansas.
Loyola-Maryland received an automatic bid by taking home the MAAC Tournament crown this year, posting a trio of wins in the process and topping Fairfield in the championship game via a 48-44 final. The Greyhounds did so as the tourney's No. 2 seed after finishing a close second to Iona at 13-5 during the regular season. Loyola ended the season 24-8 for its first-ever 20-win season in Division I play, having joined the ranks for the 1981-82 season. The 24 wins were also tied for second-most in program history. The Greyhounds' only other trip to the NCAA Tournament came in 1994, also as MAAC champs and a 15- seed, where they lost to Arizona in the opening round.
Thursday's matchup will be the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
The Buckeyes certainly made their presence felt inside the Big Ten this year, and stamped their authority with the league's top-ranked scoring margin at plus-15.7. Ohio State stands second in the conference in both scoring with 74.8 points per game and defense (59.1 ppg) -- a mark that also stands in the top-15 nationally. The Buckeyes came within four points of a second consecutive Big Ten tourney title and split with the Spartans during the regular season. OSU also split its matchups opposite the league's four other tournament teams (Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Purdue). The Buckeyes held the Big Ten's second-best shooting percentage at 48.3 percent behind only Indiana and forced a stingy 40.6 shooting percentage from opponents -- good for third in the conference. OSU also held down the league's second-best rebounding margin at plus-7.5 (37.0-29.5) behind only MSU, but also finished dead last in the conference with a mere 165 three-pointers. Super sophomore Jared Sullinger is at the heart of the Buckeyes' success, averaging 17.6 ppg, 9.3 rebounds and connecting on 53.9 percent of his field goals. Sullinger's scoring and rebounding totals place him third and second, respectively, in the Big Ten while Deshaun Thomas and William Buford give the club three of the league's top-12 scorers. The sophomore Thomas contributes in a number of ways, netting 15.4 ppg on 53.1 percent shooting with 5.0 rpg and 42 three-pointers on 34.7 percent shooting. The senior Buford puts up 14.7 ppg and leads the team with 52 triples on 35.4 percent shooting. Buford also kicks in 4.9 boards and 2.9 assists while sophomore Aaron Craft ranks third in the conference with his 4.6 assists per game and adds 8.6 ppg to the mix on a crisp 50.5 percent shooting.
The Greyhounds have a decent enough balance, but don't exactly blow opponents away at either end of the floor. Loyola's 67.6 ppg comes on just 42.8 percent shooting and stands sixth in the 10-team MAAC. The defense does a better job in holding teams to an equal shooting percentage and 63.8 ppg. The Greyhounds also do well to have the MAAC's top rebounding margin at plus-3.7 (35.3-31.7) while ranking second in blocks per game (4.4). Junior Erik Etherly and sophomore Dylan Cormier are at the head of the charge, averaging 13.5 and 13.4 ppg, respectively. Etherly contributes across the board for Loyola, ranking fourth in the conference in field-goal percentage (53.1 percent), rebounding (7.5 per game) and blocks (1.4 bpg). Junior Robert Olson kicks in 11.2 ppg and leads the club with 65 three-pointers, tying him for fifth in the MAAC, while Cormier stands second on the team with 32 triples on 32.7 percent shooting. Olson's three-point shooting percentage ranks third in the conference at 44.2 percent. MAAC Sixth Man of the Year Justin Drummond chips in a solid 10.9 ppg and 4.1 boards while Shane Walker posts 9.1 ppg and 6.4 rebounds.