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.
On Thursday night the Georgetown Hoyas traveled to Memphis to take on the Tigers in a matchup of two top 20 teams. Both teams had previously lost one game on the season, with Georgetown dropping a recent game to Temple and Memphis losing a home game to Kansas. The Tigers’ entire schedule leading up to Thursday had consisted of home games (they actually won’t have an away game until January 5th), and a win over the Hoyas would be another feather in their cap prior to commencing their yearly domination of Conference USA. For Georgetown, the future presented the complete opposite, as they would be battling night after night in the challenging Big East. A win over Memphis would just be a primer for the start of real competition.
Georgetown, ranked at #9 coming into the game, had picked up an overtime win at Missouri on November 30th, and could therefore already be seen as a top team, especially in light of Missouri’s victory over Illinois this past Wednesday night. The Tigers, carrying a #17 ranking, could also lay claim to at least one quality win, as they had defeated Miami (FL) in only their second outing of the season. Georgetown was the more known entity with three key players returning for their senior years after last season’s first round exit in the NCAA Tournament. Many fans will recall the classic upset pulled by 14-seed Ohio University over the 3-seed Hoyas. In contrast, Memphis was noted on several occasions by the commentators to be leading the country in minutes played by freshmen (an interesting statistic), and only featured one senior on the entire roster. Memphis did not appear in the NCAA Tournament last season, instead participating in the NIT, where they lost in the second round.