With New Orleans and the Buckeyes Final Four appearance rapidly approaching, I thought it would be a great time to re-visit Ohio State’s last Final Four appearance in 2007. The 2007 team was young but their 35-4 record, topped off with a National Title game appearance, showed that you don’t always have to have experience to compete for a national title.
Let’s start by evaluating the roster. Five new recruits joined the Bucks that year led by 7’0, 5-Star, power tower named Greg Oden. He was joined by his Lawrence North high school teammate Mike Conley Jr. Conley was also a 5-Star recruit. The top of the line recruits did not end there. The third addition to this 5-star triple threat was Dayton Dunbar’s Daequan Cook. This gave Thad Matta a great trio but he still added two 4-star recruits in David Lighty from Celeveland Villla-Angela St. Joseph High School and, Junior College Transfer, Othello Hunter from Winston Salem, North Carolina. These five would join juniors, Jamar Butler and Matt Terwilliger and seniors, Ivan Harris and Ron Lewis.
The combination of freshmen, juniors, and seniors would give this team the perfect mix of raw talent, athleticism, and leadership leading to a season opening ranking of #4 in the polls. The Buckeyes began the season by reeling off six straight wins to head into the Big Ten-ACC Challenge 6-0. By this time, Ohio State had shot its way to the #1 ranking and now had a date in Chapel Hill against the #6 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.The marquis matchup was played in the historic Dean Smith Center in front of a crowd of 21,750. North Carolina featured its own standout in Ty Lawson. The game was close throughout but Lawson and the Tar Heels proved to be a little too much for the Bucks, winning 98-89.
After a wins against Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Cincinnati, and Iowa State, the Bucks took its talents to Gainesville, Florida. The trip to face the Gators was another early season test that Coach Matta knew would prepare his team for the upcoming Big Ten season. This also would be a pivotal game because it would lead to a rematch of these two teams in the 2007 title game. Billy Donovan’s Gators handled the young Buckeyes 86-60, giving them their second loss of the season and also proving that the senior leadership and young talent had a ways to go to mesh and become a championship level team.
Ohio State ended its preseason schedule 11-2 and went into the Big Ten season with high hope and knowledge of what they needed to improve upon. After two victories to start the regular season, they took a trip to Madison for a matchup with the #4 ranked Wisconsin Badgers. The Bucks were now ranked #5 in the country and knew that coming out of the Kohl Center with a victory against Bo Ryan’s Badgers would be tough in a normal year, but, with them being a top 5 team, it would be even more difficult. They gave Wisconsin a very tough game but the Badgers escaped with a 72-69 victory.
The loss dropped the Bucks to #7 in the polls (the lowest they would be all year) and may have been the last hurdle for this team to get over the hump. Ohio State would not lose again in the Big Ten. They climbed all the way up the polls to the number one spot, won a vaunted rematch against the #2 Badgers 49-48, and stormed through the Big Ten Tournament (never losing a tournament game by less than 10 points.
All this led the Buckeyes to the #1 seed in the South region in Lexington, Kentucky. The battle tested Buckeyes would roll over #16 seed Central Connecticut State 78-57 leading to a intra-state matchup with the #9 seeded Xavier Musketeers. After escaping with a 78-71 overtime victory over Xavier and a 85-84 victory in the Sweet Sixteen over the #5 seeded Tennessee Volunteers, the Buckeyes steam rolled second seeded Memphis 92-76 in the Elite Eight sending them to Atlanta and the Final Four.
The Bucks would matchup with Georgetown and would feature two of the games premier big men in Greg Oden and the Hoyas’ Roy Hibbert. There was one small problem with this…..Oden was whistled for his second foul less than three minutes in the game and sat most of the game with foul trouble. While Ohio State fans watched anxiously, many with little or no nails left to bite on, the rest of the team remained calm. Oden watched as his teammates continued to play their game and not the game Georgetown wanted them to play. They would shoot themselves to a 67-60 victory and a rematch in the National Title game against the Florida Gators.
Florida had just upset Ohio State in the BCS title game in January and the Bucks were hoping for a little payback, this time on the hardwood. This time Oden would be on the floor for most of the game, making his presence well known. He scored 25 points while grabbing 12 boards. Conley added 20 and Ron Lewis added 12 giving the Bucks three double-digit scorers. In most occasions this wold be enough for a Buckeye victory but the Gators had four double-digit scorers of their own. Al Horford’s 18, Taurean Green’s 16, Lee Humphrey’s 14, and Corey Brewer’s 13 prove to be too much as the Gators won 85-74 giving Billy Donovan his second national title.
The 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes may not have won a national championship, but they did so much more. First off, they showed that even with tremendous young talent, you still need some senior leadership to help get through the mental challenges of a grueling season. Second, even though you have senior leadership, you need some young talent to give you the energy boost that you need with every momentum swing of a game. And third, they helped put Buckeye basketball back on the map. Here’s to the 2007 National Championship Runner-up Ohio State Buckeyes for a great season and one that Buckeye Nation will surely never forget.