BOISE, Idaho — In the NCAA Tournament, greed is good. For reasons both financial and food-oriented — bracket contest payoffs run the gamut from big money to banana-split sundaes — we want our teams to advance as far as possible, all the way to the last stanza of “One Shining Moment.”
Our appetite for success has differing levels, of course. If your insatiable hunger happens to be for No. 12 seed South Dakota State, you might be satisfied with a win over No. 5 Ohio State on Thursday. Upset the Buckeyes and suddenly the season gets that much sweeter, and the upcoming loss to Gonzaga (likely) or UNC-Greensboro (unlikely) does not feel so sour.
But if you outfit your bathroom in Ohio State colors, a) good luck finding a Febreze spray can in scarlet and gray; and b) you expect the Buckeyes to slide past SDSU — the South Dakota school asks you to please not confuse it with San Diego State, which despite the distance and differing climates happens quite often — and into the second round easy-peasy.
Expectations are greedy little goblins. When the season began, 9 of 10 Ohio State fans would have welcomed an NCAA Tournament invitation like it was the prodigal son, hugging a basketball program down on its luck after having gone astray.
But now? Losing to the Jackrabbits would elicit more than a shrug, more than a “Well, it’s been a fun year.” There are a couple of reasons for that. The Buckeyes are supposed to win. For a team that overachieved much of the season, underachieving in the Big Dance would be a downer.
Also, Ohio State has brushed enough pixie dust off its shoulders to make Buckeye Nation think something magical could happen over the next few weeks. The players are more rested than rusty — I expect them to come out refreshed and flying — and if Keita Bates-Diop comes up big (something like a near double-double every game) this band of would-be misfit toys could find a home in the Elite Eight.
That is a stretch, I know. It’s hard to see the Buckeyes advancing past the Sweet 16. The opposite would be less surprising. Don’t be shocked if OSU loses on Saturday or — gulp — even Thursday.
This is not a great team. It is a good team, at times exceedingly good, that played above its pay grade — probably not the best idiom, given the current scandal going on with college basketball — in a Big Ten that was weaker than usual.
Then there is the way the Buckeyes struggled toward the end of the season, losing three of five and exiting the conference tournament without a win.
“But I don’t sense that they’re fragile,” coach Chris Holtmann said on Wednesday. “I think our guys are in a good place and want to play well.”
Speaking of good places, Boise is gorgeous. Its mountains — locals laugh at the Midwestern description, correcting that they’re foothills — surrounding the Treasure Valley inspired several Buckeyes with their snow-capped majesty.
“Just the view and all that,” senior Jae’Sean Tate marveled. “I didn’t expect that coming off the plane.”
Apparently, not all expectations have to do with success and failure. Some, like Tate’s view of very large foothills, deal with unanticipated highs.
“All players come to Ohio State to play in March,” he said. “We had a couple down years, but I couldn’t ask for a better senior year. I’m going out with this team in March.”
Just not going out too soon in March, he hopes, or else the need for greed will go unfulfilled.
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