TULSA, Okla. — Ohio State guard Keyshawn Woods cut to the chase.
“Nobody fills out an NIT bracket,” he said, shrugging.
There it is. The NCAA Tournament is the tip of the spear in college basketball. The point of it all. The hoopla surrounding it and the haranguing over broken brackets makes it more engaging than football bowl games. March Madness is to casual basketball fans what the Super Bowl is to casual football fans. It encompasses more than just sports.
The thrill of the chase is why Ohio State fans turned up on the Great Plains, where on Friday night they whooped it up at the BOK Center — a stainless steel flying saucer of a building — for a team that was not expected to wow anyone this season.
>>Photos: NCAA Tournament: Ohio State vs. Iowa
>> Ohio State men’s basketball | Jallow’s strive for perfection, hard work pay off during NCAA
>> Men’s basketball | Ohio State soaks in NCAA experience
>> Ohio State men’s basketball: Defense of Andre Wesson, Musa Jallow key vs. Iowa State
Considering the Big Dance means everything in the college game, it is no surprise Woods would rather play one game in the tournament than three in that other one.
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann held his breath the last three weeks of the regular season as the Buckeyes lost three consecutive games to land squarely on the NCAA bubble. Coaches don’t like to pin all of a program’s prosperity on making the tournament, but Holtmann knows the deal.
An average team like this one can feel great about itself, and appear better than it really is in the eyes of the fans, by making the NCAA Tournament.
Inside the BOK, Ohio State fans seemed satisfied about the season.
“I consider it a success,” said Patrick Goggin, a Cincinnati native who lives in the Tulsa suburb of Sand Springs and was thrilled to attend his first Ohio State men’s basketball game with his son, Taigh. “It was hard to know what to expect after Keita Bates-Diop left.”
Goggin echoed the frustrations of many fans in describing the Buckeyes’ play as inconsistent, but he remains excited by Holtmann’s ability to develop players.
“I love Thad Matta, but at the end he looked tired,” Goggin said. “I’m absolutely pumped about Holtmann. Players are noticeably better (than last season).”
Mark Hummer arrived in Tulsa from Columbus on Friday with a smile as wide as the Oklahoma horizon. His son, Danny, is a redshirt junior guard for the Buckeyes who sat out last season after transferring from the Air Force Academy.
“The tournament is far away when you’re in Colorado Springs,” Mark Hummer said. “It’s a lot more real when you’re in Columbus, Ohio.”
Hummer, like Goggin, also gave this season a thumbs-up, largely because of the way Holtmann handles his business.
“The program is in tremendous hands,” he said.
Holtmann was honored just to earn a tournament invitation.
“You have an incredible appreciation,” he said of making the field. “And I’m really appreciative of our players and the fact we had guys step into new roles and grow into new and increased roles and embrace that. We had our bumps, but we earned the right to be here.”
Did they? Some think not, believing the Buckeyes failed the eyeball test and were not deserving of an-at large bid. True, Ohio State has not always been easy on the eyes, but athletics stopped being fair about 6,000 years ago. My thought is the Buckeyes deserved to make the tournament because they made it. No further explanation needed.
But think of how differently this team would be viewed if Ohio State had not made the NCAA Tournament, which came close to happening. Given the political maneuvering and selection committee mumbo jumbo, it is hard to say exactly what tipped things in the Buckeyes’ favor, but tip they did.