COLUMBUS, Ohio-In an alternate universe, Jordan Sibert is the starting shooting guard for the Ohio State men's basketball team. He's one of the team's go-to scorers, hits a ton of 3-pointers, and is on the receiving end of a lot of Aaron Craft's assists.
In this universe, though, Sibert is a starting guard for the Dayton Flyers, the Buckeyes' opponent in the NCAA Tournament. Thursday, Sibert and No. 11 seed Dayton will take on No. 6 seed Ohio State in Buffalo in their first game in the South Region.
"I didn't expect it, but now it's what I want," Sibert said after the NCAA Tournament bracket was released.
About four years ago, Thad Matta brought in a recruiting class that included the following six players:
Five-start center Jared Sullinger
Five-star forward Deshaun Thomas
Four-star guard Jordan Sibert
Three-star guard Aaron Craft
Three-star guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Three-star forward J.D. Weatherspoon
Only two of those players still play for Ohio State-Craft and Smith. Sullinger left Columbus for the NBA after two seasons, Thomas departed for a career overseas after three. Weatherspoon and Sibert transferred following the 2011-12 season; Weatherspoon to Toledo, Sibert to Dayton.
"When he left, he said, 'Look, I just want to play a lot.' He's definitely getting to do that," Matta said of Sibert. "He's having a great career there. I'm one of these guys that, hey, as long as everybody's happy in terms of where they are and what they're doing, I'm happy for them."
The 6-foot-4 Cincinnati native played sparingly for Ohio State as a freshman, averaging 2.1 points and 8.3 minutes a game. After that season ended-a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 sent that Buckeye team home-many expected Sibert, a good shooter, to take one of the starting spots opened by the departures of former Ohio State guards David Lighty and Jon Diebler. But the spot went to Smith.
Then, most felt Sibert would be one of the first men off the bench. But that role was filled by forward Sam Thompson. Sibert ended up playing about 11 minutes a game for Ohio State that season. It wasn't enough, so he left for Dayton, a basketball centric, mid-major type program roughly 60 minutes away from Columbus.
Sibert had to, per NCAA rules, sit out last season. He's now a redshirt junior for the Flyers, and their leading scorer. Sibert averages 12.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game, helping propel Dayton to a 23-10 record this season. He's shooting nearly 44 percent from the 3-point line.
Maybe Ohio State could have used Sibert this season. No one on the Buckeyes shoots better than 36 percent from the 3-point line, and numerous times this season, Ohio State has lacked consistent scoring, and it's cost them some games (the two losses to Penn State, the road loss to Minnesota, etc.).
Matta doesn't think like that, though.
"No, because, he's doing his thing, and he's doing it well. It's one of those things that doesn't really cross my mind," Matta said.
Like any recruiting class, Ohio State's 2010 group was close. They were all "brothers," Smith said. Some of them-Sibert and Smith-battled for playing time, and that caused some riffles, but nothing major. The Buckeyes still keep in touch with Sibert.
"I've talked to him every now and again. I haven't talked to him recently, though," said Craft, who also played with Sibert during AAU ball for All-Ohio Red.
"I've talked to him here and there, but I haven't talked to him recently," Smith said.
When Ohio State faces Dayton Thursday, there will be familiarity between the squads. There's the Sibert storyline, the Buckeyes vs. the smaller in-state school that they rarely play angle, and the fact that Matta will be coaching against a former assistant in Dayton coach Archie Miller, who assisted Matta at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes haven't faced the Flyers since 2008, when Ohio State won an NIT game in Columbus.
"I think for this team, it's a great thing," Matta said of playing Dayton. "There won't need to be a wake-up call. There won't need to be, 'Who is this? Who are they? What conference are they in? I haven't heard of that guy.' I like that, from that perspective."
To take a different side, won't Dayton be extra motivated to take down who they consider to be a rival? And won't Sibert be excited to show Matta and co. what they're missing?
One former Buckeye thinks so. Warren Offut Walter Offutt, who transferred from Ohio State to Ohio before leading the Bobcats to the Sweet 16, Tweeted this on Sunday.
Jordan Sibert gets a dream that every transfer wants! @BBaptistHoops @Matt_NBC4- Walter Offutt (@WalterOffutt) March 16, 2014
So, too, do Ohio State's players.
"Absolutely. At the same time, we're both in the same boat. You lose and you go home. We're both going to be jacked up for the same purposes," Smith said.
Ohio State and Dayton will tipoff at 12:15 p.m. E.T. Thursday.
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