SvoNotes: It's Time For More In-State Battles

For the third time in the past seven seasons, Ohio State will take on an in-state foe in the NCAA Tournament when it opens play with Dayton on Thursday. With that in mind, it seems like a good time for the Buckeyes to take on more Ohio opponents during the regular season. So why not stage an early-season tournament?

The drumbeat is already starting now that the Buckeyes have drawn Dayton in the first round (second round, schmecond round) of the NCAA Tournament – Ohio State basketball should play more in-state teams.

Our own Matthew Hager agrees. A Dayton alum and feverish Flyers basketball fan, Hager has worked for us covering Ohio State for more than seven years now, but his heart is all Flyer blue and red when it comes to Thursday's matchup even if he understands why the teams don't face off more often.

"I know UD would love to play Ohio State in the regular season, and I'm 100 percent sure Dayton fans want it," he wrote Sunday night in his preview of the Flyers. "But I also know it's not in the cards because how would it help OSU to play any in-state team and possibly lose? So there's definitely a slighted feeling that some UD fans have. I understand why they don't play, but there are a ton of UD fans who would love nothing more than to knock off the mighty Buckeyes."

And here's the thing – I agree.

One quote from ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary "Requiem for the Big East" that aired Sunday night that stuck with me came from Michael Wilbon, who rued the decline of the bitterly contested league in the film.

"I'm glad I lived a life where rivalries matter," Wilbon said. "They've done away with them."

And when you think about it, Ohio State really doesn't have any major rivalries at the moment when it comes to basketball. It used to be Ohio State-Indiana, but the Hoosiers have been so inconsistent over the past decade the rivalry really isn't there anymore. There is, of course, always bad blood between Ohio State and Michigan. In recent years, challenges from Wisconsin and Michigan State have popped up at times.

But, to me, there's no real hatred or fury for a particular team or program. Some of that is because of the odd historical spot held by Buckeye basketball, seemingly always pretty good and occasionally great but not quite a blue blood of the sport. Some of that is because, well, it's just not football and the Michigan rivalry doesn't quite mean the same.

And some of that, in my opinion, is because the Buckeyes don't play that many Ohio teams. It's a bit of a stretch, but if the hoops program was to get something going with an in-state school or two, with bragging rights on the line, well, something crazy might happen.

It might be fun.

It's not that the Buckeyes never play Ohio teams. Matta and the Buckeyes hosted Ohio University this year, Miami in 2011 and '10 (in part because of Matta's relationship with the late Charlie Coles), Cleveland State in 2009 and '07 and Bowling Green in 2008. The nonconference slate was even packed with Buckeye State foes in 2006-07 when OSU played Kent State, Youngstown State, Cleveland State and Cincinnati (in the Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis). And of course there was the Big Dance matchup with UC in 2012 and the NIT game vs. Dayton in '08.

But that's exactly 10 teams in 10 seasons on the regular-season schedule. To me, that's just not enough.

I completely understand the argument why it doesn't happen more often. Simply put, the Buckeyes don't want to lose to a school – perhaps one more motivated than the Buckeyes given their shot at the state's 500-pound gorilla of a university – that it is "supposed" to beat. If you win, you were supposed to win. If you lose, there's egg on your face.

I get it, and it's totally commonplace (what Dayton fans won't mention this week the Flyers won't play Wright State in the Gem City Jam, which is unfortunate because that is a FANTASTIC name and because Wright State has developed a legitimate program the past few years).

But here's my rebuttal to that, from the OSU perspective – so what? Thad Matta has built one of the preeminent programs in the nation at Ohio State, making the Sweet 16 in each of the past four seasons. If the Buckeyes truly are the big man in the state – and their record certainly seems to point to that – then why be worried about taking on the Akrons, Xaviers and, yes, Daytons of the world?

As Julian Casablancas once sang, "Your faith has got to be greater than your fear."

And how's this for a fact: The last season in which Ohio State lost to an Ohio team was 1998-99, when Toledo upset the Buckeyes on Dec. 5. It didn't seem to hurt the Buckeyes too much, though, as they ended up making the Final Four that season.

I'm not saying the Buckeyes need to play the entire state each season. Every team has its share of Central Connecticut States on the schedule. Two or three games, though, against some of the top programs in the state would certainly build interest, though.

Of course, my pet theory is even more in-depth. For the past decade or so, fellow BSB staffer Marcus Hartman and I have told people that there should be an in-state basketball tournament every fall featuring the best teams in Ohio and hosted by Ohio State (which is really the only way the Buckeyes would take part). I know we're not the only people to come up with this idea, but much everyone we've discussed this with over the years seems to think it would be fantastically fun and entertaining.

There are a lot of ways to do it, though my favorite setup – doing it over Thanksgiving weekend on OSU's campus – doesn't quite work the way it did when the idea was hatched now that the football schedule lasts past Turkey Day, not to mention the addition of the Big Ten Championship Game.

You can vary the number of teams involved – Ohio has 13 Division I schools – or the locale if you really want to. Maybe you try to include everyone and have regional battles, with the top team from each region making it to Columbus, though that is a bit of a logistical nightmare.

My favorite idea, though, is simply to make it a four-team tournament in Columbus each year, with two semifinals, a championship game and a consolation matchup. The non-OSU participants could either rotate each year, or, because basketball schedules aren't set until the summer anyway, you could perhaps pick the projected best three teams in the state and send them to Columbus. Maybe a provision could be included that NCAA Tournament teams from the year before get the right of first refusal.

Who knows. All I know is there is a way to make sure quality basketball teams get together in to celebrate the underrated heritage of basketball in the Buckeye State. (BTW, this would be really fun to do at St. John Arena – Ohio's version of the Palestra, which I guess would make this the Buckeye State's version of the Big Five – but I'm resigned to that just being too much to ask.)

Let's be honest: College basketball, especially at Ohio State, doesn't quite move the meter until football is over UNLESS something big is happening. Buckeye fans have shown in the past they'll turn out for ACC/Big Ten Challenge games, or similar contests against name opposition.

I think they'd do the same for an Ohio tournament in Columbus, as would fans of other schools, and everybody would win. The Buckeyes get interest, ready-made rivalries, and the home court. Everyone else gets the shot at OSU they've wanted for years.

Let's make it happen.

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