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Colleges

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Buckeyes put focus on game at hand

Players unaware of West’s upsets

– During Ohio State’s journey to the Final Four last season, Aaron Craft learned the importance of focusing on the next 40 minutes, not the three-week trip.

So Craft didn’t realize the highest seeds in the West Regional were dropping like dominoes until earlier this week.

He purposely didn’t learn much about ninth-seeded Wichita State until Thursday night, when the powerful Buckeyes found out they’re facing the unheralded Shockers today for another ticket to the Final Four.

“I think that really helped a lot – just getting caught up in the moment and thinking about where you are and what you need to do to get out,” Ohio State’s star point guard said. “We watch all the games. Obviously we’re basketball fans, but I kept saying, ‘Where is this team? Which bracket is this in? What is that?’ It wasn’t until after we played Iowa State that I realized our bracket was being destroyed number-wise, and really realizing how tough every team was.”

Craft’s point is a theme echoed on both sides of Staples Center on Friday during workouts for the final game in a regional that emphasized the parity throughout college basketball when six of the top eight seeds lost on the first weekend.

Anybody who tries to paint this matchup as David facing down Goliath will get polite disagreement from the supposed big guy and the alleged little guy alike.

Neither team has any doubt Wichita State (29-8) belongs on the same court with the Buckeyes (29-7) for a chance to go to Atlanta.

“We have to go out there and play our hearts out,” Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early said. “So regardless if their facilities are a little bit bigger than ours, they’ve got to lace up their shoes just like us.”

Sure, the Shockers can’t match Ohio State’s financial resources or alumni base. They’ve got everything else necessary to play with the Buckeyes for those 40 minutes – and even pull off one more surprise in their charmed run through March.

“What I love is the fact they’re not really bouncing off the wall,” coach Gregg Marshall said of his Shockers. “They seem to be legitimately unsatisfied thus far. We know we’ve got a great opponent and a tremendous challenge, but at the same time, we’re in that Elite Eight game. We have an opportunity, and our best is going to be hard to beat.”

Wichita State is making its first regional finals appearance since 1981, looking for a spot in its first Final Four since the school’s only previous trip in 1965. The Shockers’ 29 victories match the school record set just two years ago under Marshall, who spent part of Friday fending off questions about UCLA’s job vacancy from eager Los Angeles reporters.

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