Jared Sullinger #0 and Deshaun Thomas #1 of the Ohio...

Jared Sullinger #0 and Deshaun Thomas #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts in the second half. (March 17, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

BOSTON -- Fans of straight talk had to appreciate Ohio State's All-American forward Jared Sullinger on the eve of the Buckeyes' NCAA East Regional semifinal matchup with Cincinnati Thursday night at TD Bank Garden. While OSU coach Thad Matta and Bearcats coach Mick Cronin mostly played dumb about the notion of an intense intrastate rivalry, Sullinger showed that a) he is up on the history, and b) he wasn't about to deny reality.

"The last time these guys met was in, what, 1961?" Sullinger said.

Buckeyes teammate Aaron Craft reminded Sullinger the two schools were paid by a television network to play each other in December 2006, but the big man made his point about the two Ohio State-Cincinnati games that matter most. "The next [before 2006] was 1961 and '62 in the national championship, I believe," Sullinger correctly stated. "So it still kind of has bad blood between the two schools. This one is going to be remembered for whoever goes to the Elite Eight, and it's going to be a battle of Ohio."

Thank you, Jared.

Long before any of the current players were born and even before Matta and Cronin were born, Cincinnati and Ohio State represented college basketball royalty in the late 1950s and early '60s. The Bearcats were led by Oscar Robertson from 1958-60, losing in the national semis the last two of those years.

Then the Buckeyes rose to prominence behind Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and a bit player by the name of Bob Knight, winning the 1960 NCAA title against California and then losing the title game in 1961 and '62 to Cincinnati teams led by Tom Thacker and Paul Hogue. The 1963 Bearcats also reached their fifth straight Final Four, losing the title game to Loyola of Chicago, but that's another story.

Ohio State essentially has shunned Cincinnati in basketball for the past 50 years with the exception of that one neutral-site game six years ago. Obviously, losing to the Bearcats didn't serve the interests of an athletic giant like OSU.

Matta, who previously coached at Xavier and participated in its crosstown rivalry with Cincinnati, was asked if the problem is that the Buckeyes won't schedule the Bearcats in Cincinnati or simply won't schedule them at all.

"I don't know if I can give you a great answer exactly why we don't play," said the coach in charge of Ohio State's basketball program. "From our standpoint of being at Ohio State for eight years, every game we play is like a rivalry . . . It's one of those things that is what it is."

Cincinnati's Cronin expressed his respect for Ohio State but insisted he has no plans to use any real or imagined rivalry as a motivational tool. "Our players know nothing about all that stuff," Cronin said. "It's irrelevant for us.

"We have a goal. We're trying to win four more games and bring a championship back to Cincinnati. The fact that we're playing Ohio State is a sidebar for us."

But having grown up in Cincinnati, Cronin at least admitted Bearcats fans might have a different take. "For a lot of our fans, there's nostalgia guys. I grew up on that stuff, but I wasn't alive . We've got bigger fish to fry, and we need to stay focused on things that matter."


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