(Photo copyrighted by Warner Brothers Studios)

Finally! The Buckeyes after an absence from the Big Dance, a.k.a. the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, since 2015 – will be dancing.

In the beginning of this season (2017-18) this very team of scrappers were predicted by everyone to be in the lower tier of the Big Ten standings – simply nowhere in sight of an NCAA bid, and probably not one from the NIT either. But the Buckeyes under first year coach, Chris Holtmann, posted a 24-8 overall record and 15-3 within the conference. Hats off to these players, and certainly Coach Holtmann in the surprise of the season nationwide – in my opinion.

The Ohio State University accepted its bid during a special Selection Sunday event inside the Schottenstein Center. OSU players and coaches were surrounded by roughly 500 fans and students as the Selection Show aired on the center video board.

Ohio State was selected as the No. 5 seed in the West Region and will open their NCAA bid against the 12 seed South Dakota State (28-6) on Thursday in Boise, Idaho at Taco Bell Arena (Yummy!). It appears it will be broadcasted on TNT at 4:00 p.m. EST. But changes certainly can occur, so check closer to Thursday.

The Jackrabbits won the Summit League regular season championship with a 13-1 record. SDSU, sits at 37 in RPI (compared to 20 for OSU), took wins over Western Illinois (66-60), North Dakota State (78-57) and South Dakota (97-87) in the Summit tournament.

South Dakota State is led by high scoring junior guard Mike Daum (23.8 ppg) and freshman David Jenkins (16.1 ppg). The Jackrabbits’ best win in RPI was over MAC champion Buffalo (26 in RPI). They are 0-2 against power teams (ranked 1-32) – losing to Kansas and Wichita State.

The winner of that game will face the winner of a first-round game between No. 4 seed Gonzaga (30-4) and No. 13 seed UNC-Greensboro (27-7) on Saturday. If OSU faces Gonzaga, it would be a rematch from the PK-80 Invitational from Thanksgiving evening in Portland. Gonzaga pulled away in the second half for an 86-59 win. Gonzaga has won 14 straight games going into the tournament.

The Buckeyes will be making their 28th appearance in NCAA Tournament play and enter the event with an overall NCAA Tournament record of 49-26.

Ohio State has advanced to the Final Four 10 times in program history while making 14 Elite Eight and 14 Sweet Sixteen appearances. (An 11th Final Four trip in 1999 was vacated by NCAA sanctions.)

The NCAA selection committee put the Number 1 seeds as: Villanova in the East, Virginia in the South, Kansas in the Midwest and Xavier in the West. Virginia is placed as the #1 team overall in the tournament – rightfully so.

The top three seeds in the West Region, in order, are Xavier, North Carolina and TTUN.

The Buckeyes come in sluggish. They dropped to Penn State in their opening game in the Big Ten Tournament by one point. They are led by one of the best players in the country, the Big Ten Player of the Year, Keita Bates-Diop who is averaging 19.4 points per game. The Buckeyes have three other players scoring in double figures: Jae’Sean Tate (12.5) C.J. Jackson (12.2) & Kaleb Wesson (10.8).

The Jackrabbits are a fun team to watch. They possess one of the best players you have never heard of in 6’9 senior forward Mike Daum. The ball is put in his hands a lot — Daum is ninth nationally in percentage of possessions used and third nationally in percentage of shots taken. He’s a double-double threat, going for 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, while freshman guard David Jenkins Jr. can fill it up to the tune of 16.1 points a night.

South Dakota State got a moderately promising draw, picking up an Ohio State team in the 5-12 game that limped to the finish line. While the Jackrabbits have lost once since Dec. 19, the Buckeyes ended the year with three losses in their final five games. What does this really mean – nothing!

I have seen many are favoring the Jackrabbits…. talking of them in that Cinderella “reasoning”. But, when the Buckeyes are rested, which they are, they are one of those teams that can square-up with anyone. And truth be told, the Buckeyes have more on the court in the sense of production than the Jackrabbits.

My heart is pounding …. I am going with the Buckeyes by 4-10 points. And look for Keita to have an outstanding game, and tournament. He wants NBA Scouts to notice. And in that frame of mind – enough said!