Ohio State’s late-season surge did not earn the Buckeyes as high a seed as they expected in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, but that may not be a bad thing in the long run.
As a pre-determined host for the first and second rounds, they knew no matter their seed they would open the tournament at home, but recent projections had them heading to Philadelphia or Spokane for the second weekend of the tournament.
Instead, the fourth-seeded Buckeyes were assigned a simple 60-minute trip west to Dayton if they can survive an opening round game with No. 13 Central Florida and a second-round contest with either No. 5 Georgia Tech or No. 12 Bowling Green.
“The Dayton Regional is a surprise,” head coach Jim Foster said. “I thought we would be getting on an airplane to go somewhere, but I like the teams coming here. I like the draw. I find it interesting - it’s a very regional NCAA tournament.”
The top two seeds in the Philadelphia Regional - No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Duke - as well as the top two in Dallas - No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Texas A&M - also get to stay close to home.
“It’s obvious they’re trying to build interest in different regions of the country,” Foster said.
A trip to Dayton could mean a chance to play No. 1 seed Tennessee in front of a friendly partisan crowd, but there is much business to be done first.
The Yellow Jackets and Falcons tip off at 11:20 a.m. Saturday at St. John Arena with the Buckeyes and Knights to play 30 minutes after that one concludes.
Last year, the Buckeyes opened the tournament in Pittsburgh but spoke excitedly of a chance to face undefeated, top-ranked Connecticut in Dayton in a regional final.
Instead, they found themselves dumped out of the tournament with an 87-67 second-round loss to No. 7-seed Mississippi State.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead because we did that last year and got a little unfocused, but I think we’re going to focus on one game at a time with Central Florida,” four-time Big Ten player of the year Jantel Lavender said Sunday night.
Ohio State enters the tournament on a nine-game winning streak and hopeful of keeping alive the momentum that helped it claim the Big Ten tournament championship last weekend in Indianapolis.
It is the school’s 20th NCAA tournament appearance and ninth in a row.
Foster is making his 12th consecutive trip to the tournament and his 25th overall with a record of 32-24 all-time.
In Foster's nine seasons at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have earned No. 1 (2006), No. 2 (2005, 2010), No. 3 (2009), No. 4 (2003, 2007, 2011) and No. 6 (2004, 2008) seeds in the tournament.
In that span, Ohio State has only advanced past the second round twice, in 2005 and 2009.
The Buckeyes have not been to the Elite Eight since 1993, when head coach Nancy Darsch led them to a national runner-up finish.