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5 pre-NCAA Tournament thoughts on a weird year for basketball around here

Mar. 15—Midway through March, much of Ohio is done playing meaningful college basketball games.

The party is just beginning nationwide, and it starts here next week with the First Four.

Before the college basketball world turns its sights on Dayton again, let's take stock of what was really an unusual season in Southwest Ohio and beyond:

1. Will the final chapter for this Dayton team be its best?

I know Twitter (I'm never calling it "X") is not real life, but it's hard to miss the angst of more than a few fans on that platform (and in real life) as the Flyers have sort of wobbled down the stretch.

What was looking like a great season ended up being a nice year that left people justifiably wanting more than a third-place finish in the Atlantic 10 and a one-game cameo at the league tournament in Brooklyn.

All can be forgiven with a couple of wins later in March, though, and being in the Big Dance is always far better than watching from home (as Xavier and Cincinnati should be able to confirm soon enough).

League play grinds on everyone, so perhaps it will do coach Anthony Grant's crew good to face someone new.

2. One Wright State team might have underachieved while the other had a nice bounce-back season.

Much like Grant, Wright State coach Scott Nagy appears to have assembled one of the best rosters in his conference but did not win it.

The Raiders were picked to finish third and ended up tied for that spot, but they had a Horizon League Tournament quarterfinal win in their hands (literally) and let it slip away last week or Trey Calvin, Tanner Holden et al might be preparing for another NCAA Tournament trip themselves.

On the flip side, the Wright State women went 18-15, an encouraging mark after winning only 12 games in the first two seasons of Kari Hoffman's tenure as head coach.

Where those Raiders go next will be interesting with some big holes to fill, but Hoffman has already shown she can use the transfer portal well.

(And while we're at it, let's point out the Dayton women's basketball team nearly doubled its win total in year two under local legend Tamika Williams-Jeter.)

3. The Ohio State men's team definitely underachieved, at least until recently.

The Buckeyes' 6-1 mark since Jake Diebler replaced Chris Holtmann as head coach validates the preseason assumption OSU was at minimum an NCAA Tournament team this season after finishing three games under .500 in 2023.

They're still alive as of this writing both in the Big Ten Tournament and maybe the NCAA Tournament, but at least the Buckeyes have shown the spark Gene Smith was looking for when the outgoing director of athletics made the coaching switch last month.

I have a feeling "First Four out" is the best Ohio State can do at this point, but stranger things have happened.

Whoever coaches Ohio State next season should have a great foundation to build upon, at least if Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr. and Scotty Middleton stick around.

4. The Ohio State women's team looks like the standard-bearer for the whole state this month.

Coach Kevin McGuff's Buckeyes broke through last season by beating Connecticut to make their first Elite Eight in three decades, and the Big Ten champions have legitimate hopes of being in Cleveland for the Final Four this time around.

All-Big Ten guard Cotie McMahon, a sophomore from Centerville, is the co-headliner of the team with senior Jacy Sheldon, but McGuff has a deep group that plays a fun, up-tempo style and knows how to win in March.

Projected to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes will begin the Big Dance at home at Value City Arena next weekend.

5. McMahon should be one of several local players in March Madness.

The Miami Valley has been a great incubator for girls' basketball talent for decades, and this year is yet another example.

Bree Hall, a junior guard from Wayne High School, has started every game for undefeated, top-ranked South Carolina, which won the SEC Tournament last weekend. She averages 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while shooting 40% from 3-point range.

Maddy Westbeld, a redshirt junior forward from Fairmont, averages 14.2 points and nine rebounds for ACC champion Notre Dame while Tecumseh grad Terah Harness will also be part of March Madness with Sunbelt Conference Tournament champion Marshall.

Fairmont grad Madison Bartley (Baylor) and Springboro's Jordan Hobbs (Michigan) also figure to be part of the tourney if their teams get at-large bids, but we will find out for certain when the bracket is released Sunday night.

On the flip side, the Dayton roster might contain the only locals in the men's tournament (Evan Dickey and Makai Grant of Chaminade Julienne, Brady Uhl of Alter, C.J. Napier of Fenwick and Will Maxwell of Oakwood).

The best shot for the area to be represented otherwise was Springfield grad Raheem Moss, but his Toledo Rockets were upset in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament.

(If I missed anyone, drop me a line at Marcus.hartman@coxinc.com.)

A team from Ohio is going to win the MAC men's tournament, but the Flyers look like they will be the only other team from the Buckeye State to make the Big Dance.