PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP)—Ohio coach John Groce majored in math and taught it in high school and likes to use numbers when he’s preparing his team or analyzing opponents.
So how do the Bobcats explain this:
They lost 14 games in the regular season, finishing below .500 in the mid-major Mid-America Conference to earn a No. 14 seed in the NCAA tournament. Then knocked off third-seeded Georgetown—the biggest upset in a first day full of them—by, you guessed it, 14 points.
“I think that’s why you come to a mid-major school: the challenge of getting into the tournament. And then to win, to advance in a tournament, is another big thing,” Ohio guard Armon Bassett said Friday. “I think people are starting to like us and starting to follow us. But we’ve just got to keep a level head, a narrow path and stay humble. And keep trying to string these W’s together.”
Ohio, which was only the ninth seed in its conference tournament, knocked off No. 3 NCAA seed Georgetown 97-83 on Thursday night. With a victory over sixth-seeded Tennessee (26-8) on Saturday, the Bobcats (22-14) would become just the third No. 14 seed to advance to the round of 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“It’s always something you have to worry about when you play somebody seeded lower than you, that they’ll come in with a chip on their shoulder,” Vols guard Melvin Goins said. “But we have a chip on our shoulders, too.”
Cleveland State in 1986 and Chattanooga in ’97 are the only No. 14 seeds to reach the regional semifinals, and it’s never been done by a No. 15 or 16 seed.
And it’s all of no consequence to Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.
“I have no idea what seed they are. It doesn’t matter what seed they are,” said Pearl, who has advanced to the second weekend of the NCAAs twice in the previous three years. “They’re the MAC champions and they’re standing in our way of advancing to the Sweet 16. They don’t care if it’s Tennessee or the SEC. They know we have one shot at a bright shining moment and doing something very special for that school.
“I think if you asked our guys, they won’t know what seed Ohio is. But they can tell you they beat Georgetown last night by double-digits. And they can tell you how many points their kids had. And how many points their team scored and what they’re capable of.”
Here are the numbers Pearl does care about: Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper is a 5-foot-11, 165-pound freshman who led the conference in minutes played and steals and assists per game. After watching 20 minutes of film on Friday morning Pearl turned to his staff and said, “Who is this kid? Where is he from? And why didn’t we know about him?”
“It didn’t take long at all for our guys to have their eyes completely wide opened,” Pearl said. “The teams that are left have all been through the grind of a regular season. They’ve all gone on the road, had their backs up against the wall, won games they weren’t supposed to win, developed some toughness and chemistry.
“Do you understand that these kids don’t want to stop playing? They desperately want this thing to continue. And so they do things that maybe they’ve not done before,” Pearl said. “And sometimes it brings out the best in you.”