SAN ANTONIO – As Final Four celebrations go, this one was beyond subdued.
The Ohio State Buckeyes had just finished off Memphis, just finished off a wild, heart-pumping NCAA tournament journey, just finished off any and all skeptics who thought a team with all these freshmen never could reach Atlanta, yet on the exuberance scale, Saturday's postgame celebration ranked just above the dial tone.
Oh, they hugged. And high-fived. And clipped some nets and held aloft the South Regional trophy. But that was about it. No tears. No dancing. No climbing on scorers' tables or anything else.
Ohio State was in the Final Four, and all the Buckeyes wanted to talk about was winning two more.
"We're not done yet," said Greg Oden, their 7-foot center. "We want to finish this out."
Welcome to the Fearsome Four. No weak sisters here, just heavyweight programs set to battle Saturday down in Georgia.
The Buckeyes' reactions were matched by UCLA and Florida and, to a lesser extent, Georgetown, but only because the Hoyas needed an amazing comeback to beat North Carolina.
For the most part these are four programs that envisioned themselves here all season, envisioned even more, actually. All four are happy to be in Atlanta. None of them are satisfied to be in Atlanta.
"Now is the time to really step it up," Florida forward Al Horford said. "There [are] no excuses at this point."
Not for these teams, not for these programs.
Last year's Final Four featured four teams that ranged from a bit surprised to completely shocked to be there. Florida and UCLA were, perhaps, a year away. LSU had come out of nowhere. George Mason was living on a prayer.
It wasn't unlike most Final Fours, which almost always include at least one team and often two that underachieved during the regular season only to get hot in the tournament. Technically every Final Four has four teams capable of winning the title, but not really. There was no way George Mason or LSU were taking the national title last season.
But this year, go ahead and try to pick a favorite. Or an underdog. This is as wide open as the final weekend has been in memory.
Florida, UCLA, Georgetown and Ohio State. No surprises, no excuses. Each won at least 30 games and its regular-season conference title. All but UCLA took their league tournaments also.
Each has been envisioning Atlanta since before practice even began.
For Florida, Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer decided to forgo last year's NBA draft and team up with Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey, hoping to become the first repeat champions since Duke in 1991-92 and the first ever with the same five starters.
UCLA is completing a promise to build off that title-game loss to the Gators a year ago and take it one step further, powered by sensational guards Arron Affalo and Darren Collison.
Ohio State's plan was hatched, in many ways, when three kids on the same Indiana AAU team – Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook – decided to attend school together and try to win a title in their freshman year. They chose an already strong Buckeye program and are two games away.
Georgetown was about great talent flocking to and believing in this historic program and a coach with a famous name preaching a disciplined system of play that used to be seen as the trick of the unathletic. John Thompson III promised to restore the glory with the Hoyas, and he's doing it with Pete Carril's Princeton offense.
There were, naturally, ebbs and flows to each team's season. Each needed a gut-check comeback, a favorable whistle or a lucky bounce to survive. But that's basketball. That's March.
This is a Final Four that features current All-Americans, future lottery picks and, one day, Hall of Fame coaches. There is skill and savvy, experience and youth – and not a pretender in disguise left.
East, West, South and Midwest, three public schools and a Jesuit University, big cities and college towns and hardly anyone surprised that this could have happened.
If anything, after reaching Atlanta, the four coaches spoke not of difficulty in getting their players to believe this was possible but in living up to expectations that it would happen.
For these programs anything less would have been a disappointment and, maybe, anything but clipping the nets next Monday also will be. Any of them can do it. Three of them won't. That's the challenge now, facing teams just as confident that this is their destiny.
No Cinderellas this year. No teams that sleepwalked through the season to get hot at the right time. No "just happy to be here" teams.
So forgive even these young Buckeyes for not being too excited about the Final Four. Even all those freshmen understood that the pinnacle hadn't yet been reached.
"We're happy to be where we're at," Conley Jr. said, "but we know there's a long way to go. There [are] two more games to play."
- Ohio State