Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sweet 16

We're gearing up for the big game tonight--the 32-3 Ohio State University Buckeyes vs. the Tennessee Volunteers (24-10).

The Bucks and the Vols have already played this year, with the Buckeyes eeking out a 68-66 win at home. That win was the first of 19 in a row for Ohio State, who ended the season with a Big 10 Championship (both regular season and tournament crowns) and ranked #1 in the country.

These teams have changed since that meeting in Columbus--both have gained maturity (including Greg Oden, the oldest looking 18-year old on the planet) and big game experience, so this should be a great game. We take nothing about the Big Dance for granted and know that any team can win on any given day. To help the Buckeyes pull out a win, I'll be wearing the same outfit that I donned for every Ohio State regular season football game (oh that I'd worn it on January 8th....). It works. I know this because the football team never lost while I was wearing it.

I'm not the only superstitious basketball fan out there. ESPN reports on Ohio State coach Thad Matta's little quirks:

Thad Matta takes a 32-win Ohio State team into San Antonio this week. His Buckeyes are deep, athletic, offensively explosive, defensively resolute, physically mature and mentally tough.

In other words, there are a lot of very good reasons why the Buckeyes have won 19 straight to get to this point.

But judging from Matta's behavior, it could all go to hell in a heartbeat without a stick of chewing gum.

Before every game, he has to have a piece of Juicy Fruit or Orbit -- "I don't know which one he chews currently," associate head coach John Groce said -- presented to him by a team manager. Matta has to unwrap it himself, then wad up the wrapper, then shoot it into the trash can behind the bench.

Every game. Without fail. Lest the Earth split open and swallow him on the spot.

Or maybe it's the tie choice that has kept the Buckeyes rolling. Before each game, Matta's daughters, 8-year-old Ali and 6-year-old Emily, have to pick out dad's neckwear.

"Sometimes it might not match," Groce said. "But if it doesn't, that's OK."

At this point, Matta would wear a maize-and-blue tie if his daughters selected it. There is no going against the established ritual.

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