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That Ohio State-Cincinnati feud has deep, deep roots

Mar 20, 2012, 8:27 AM EST

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Ohio State doesn’t do in-state basketball rivalries. In the last 10 years, the Buckeyes have scheduled a handful of non-conference games against Ohio schools. Most came during 2007 when the Buckeyes played Kent State, Youngstown State and Cleveland State.

It’s part of the deal when you’re the big dog, though. If you lose games you didn’t need to play, it doesn’t sit well with fans and boosters.

Maybe that’s why Thursday’s Ohio State-Cincinnati game is so damn notable.

The programs – two of college basketball’s proudest, with 16 Final Fours between them – have played just once since 1962, and nine times overall. Since 1905.

“It would be a yearly event just like Louisville and Kentucky, but I don’t see it happening,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told The Dagger in May. “I have friends that have coached at Ohio State and they were basically told, ‘You’re not playing Cincinnati.’ It’s been a longstanding historical decision from their school.”

Call it extreme dislike. In a Sweet 16 that doesn’t lack for hate among teams, the Buckeyes and Bearcats are up there.

When Cincinnati beat Ohio State in back-to-back title games in ’61 and ’62, the dislike began. But it wasn’t until the early ‘90s that things got out of hand. From Along the Olentangy:

Damon Flint was a McDonald’s All-American that signed with Ohio State in 1993 out of Cincinnati Woodward High School. While on a visit with Ohio State, however, he was treated to a meal at an off-campus restaurant and given a free gym bag — both violations of NCAA rules. Someone tipped off the NCAA about these violations and Flint wound up at Cincinnati after the NCAA declared he could not play at Ohio State as a freshman.

It remains unclear as to [Bob] Huggins’ role in the fiasco. According to the published NCAA fractions report, Flint was on his Ohio State visit with an assistant high school coach at the time. The NCAA learned of the violations by an anonymous tip, or at least, anonymous within the report. Perhaps not by coincidence, the junior varsity head coach of Woodward and an assistant on that staff was now-head coach Mick Cronin. After Flint ended up at Cincinnati, Cronin was promoted to video coordinator for the Bearcats under Huggins — straight from Woodward.

In 1997, after [Randy] Ayers was dismissed and OSU Director of Athletics Andy Geiger was searching for his replacement, Huggins interviewed for the job. However, many people believe Geiger refused to hire Huggins despite pressure from influential boosters and being a national name.

Eventually, Geiger landed Jim O’Brien of Boston College. O’Brien reportedly also didn’t like Huggins; his recruiting antics and his (lack of) graduating his players. With Cincinnati being so successful, there was perhaps no more desire to establish an annual series than at that time. However, O’Brien refused to consider it.

There’s more, but read the post and this for details.

I doubt any of this acrimony emerges this week among the players. There isn’t a rivalry between them, just the alums and some school officials.

But man, it makes for some interesting fodder.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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