CINCINNATI — Stirred by a pep talk from the school president, the Ohio Bobcats applauded themselves in the locker room and celebrated their trip to the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 by chanting: “We are Ohio!”
Not a bad March motto for the whole state.
The nation’s 17th state is the first to send four teams to the NCAA’s round of 16: the Bobcats, Ohio State, the University of Cincinnati and Xavier. The four come from different conferences and play different styles but have gone a combined 8-0 in the tournament.
“It’s super for Ohio basketball,” former Ohio State star Jerry Lucas said Monday. “This whole region has traditionally had great basketball. To see Ohio be the first to have four in the Sweet 16 – that’s great.”
Seven other states have managed to get three teams into the round of 16, according to STATS LLC: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Texas, California, North Carolina, Kansas and Tennessee.
No state has ever had a better opening week in the tournament. The First Four games were played in Dayton, where Western Kentucky pull off an historic comeback in the opener.
The rest of the state has kept up the excitement.
Ohio State lived up to its No. 2 seed by beating Loyola and Gonzaga. Ohio University, from the Mid-American Conference, got a 13th seed and became the tournament’s latest mid-major darling.
The Bobcats knocked off Michigan in their first game, then beat South Florida to get to the round of 16 for the first time since 1964.
Cincinnati and Xavier – the city rivals who brawled on the court in December – took big strides in refurbishing their seasons and reputations.
The Big East’s Bearcats knocked off Texas and Florida State to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2001 under coach Bob Huggins. No. 10 seed Xavier, the only Atlantic 10 team left, beat Notre Dame and Lehigh to reach the regional semifinals for the fourth time in five years.
Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky are supplying seven of the final 16 teams this weekend, another numerical measure of the area’s rich college basketball tradition.
“Oh my gosh, we talk about that all the time,” said Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski, who is on the NCAA Tournament selection committee. “Within a 150-mile radius or so, there’s a tremendous concentration of high-level basketball competition and talent, and great coaching and committed programs.”