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The ghosts of Ohio State basketball past, present, and future

The Basketball Tournament has reminded us what Ohio State basketball can be.

It isn’t every day that you get to relive the glory days of a sports team. No matter the sport, be it professional or collegiate, it’s very rare to be able to run back the best years of any team. Now, can you rewatch that super bowl win, that national title, or that come-from-behind win on YouTube? Sure. But as anyone that’s tried it knows, it just isn’t the same.

Ohio State fans had the chance to re-experience the glory days of Buckeye basketball, live, nationally televised, and called by the best play-by-play announcer in all the land this past weekend. Is it exactly the same? No, of course not.

Some key faces are gone, some eras are crossed over, and for some reason a Penn State alum is there too, but the Ohio State alumni team, Scarlet & Gray, in the annual “Basketball Tournament” (also known as TBT) is about as close to a reenactment as you’ll find in sports.

With Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger, David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, Evan Ravenel, and Greg Oden all on the team, it’s a bit of a who’s who of beloved stars from the Thad Matta era. With Evan Turner and Sconnie Penn coaching the team, there’s plenty to love about this group.

Their emergence in this tournament, and their impressive success (set to play in the Sweet 16 next Saturday) hasn’t just been a delight to revel in, it’s also been a great throwback to what Ohio State basketball once was. Watching this team play feels a lot like what watching Ohio State in 2011, or 2006, felt like. Their chemistry, teamwork, and talent makes them one of the tournament’s top teams, and brings up memories of massive wins over Duke, Purdue, and Syracuse. It reminds you of just how crazy Aaron Craft is, how strong Jared Sullinger is, and how much you love David Lighty.

It also reminds of what Ohio State basketball once was. Just eight years ago, the Buckeyes lost just three games in a season. They went to a Final Four seven years ago, and an Elite Eight six years ago. The eventual collapse under Thad Matta that ended last summer after a 17-15 season wasn’t a slow drip, it was a downpour.

Ohio State was great, until they weren’t.

While remembering the old times, and watching those old faces playing together at least one more time is awesome, it’s a bit melancholic. These players, no matter how much we love them, and no matter how much we miss them, will never play for Ohio State again. That era of Buckeye basketball is dead, and while we can reminisce, The Basketball Tournament is a reunion, not a revival.

The revival, however, may be coming. Of all the great moments from TBT this past weekend, my favorite was easily when it was pointed out on the broadcast that Micah Potter, Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Keyshawn Woods and Luther Muhammad were all in attendance, watching the ghosts of Buckeye basketball past. Current Buckeyes could learn a lot from the Buckeyes on the court this past weekend. If they do, we could be in for another golden era of Buckeye basketball.

It’s rare to be able to relive the best era of a sports team, but it’s even rarer to see the best era forming. We may be doing both right now. After their excellent 2017 season, Chris Holtmann and the Buckeyes have brought in a great 2018 recruiting class, and added two five-stars in the 2019 class. There’s hype around the program for the first time in years, and as we saw with a sold out alumni game, fans in Columbus are more than willing to support a basketball program (hell, I’m wearing my Jim Jackson jersey as I write this).

It probably won’t happen in 2018, which many expect to be a bit of a bridge year. However, when looking at the talent returning (almost everyone) and talent incoming (two five-stars) in 2019, it doesn’t take much to let your imagination run wild. Can they win a Big Ten title? A national title? We’ll just have to see.

However, because of the golden era under Thad Matta, and because of some of the players participating at The Basketball Tournament, we have a pretty good idea of what Buckeye basketball can look like.

There’s no way to know if Ohio State will ever reach those heights again, so enjoy the reunion while it lasts. While you do, remember that the present and future of Buckeye basketball are watching the same games, and I can say this safely, with no hedging or prognosticating. They’re hungry to return Buckeye basketball to its rightful place.