Sam Thompson is confident about two things.
The first is his knack for dunking the basketball, which has been evidenced throughout the acrobatic senior forward’s career at Ohio State, and the speed with which he can do so.
“I know for a fact, that if somebody gets a steal at the top, and there’s a dunk to be had at the other end,” he said on Tuesday, “there’s nobody in the country that’s faster baseline-to-baseline than me.”
The second is a belief that the Buckeyes — despite an inconsistent season of highs and lows — have the pieces in place to make the Final Four, which will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It remains a realistic goal.
It’s why Thompson, who might be Ohio State’s chief leader, refuses to attend college basketball’s dunk contest at the end of the season. He explained why.
"It’s at the Final Four right? So I’m going to have to be playing or I’m going to be (in Columbus),” he said. “I’m not going to the Final Four to do a dunk contest."
Thompson added: “I have hopes to play in the Final Four … if I’m not playing in it, there’s no point for me to go down there because I want to play."
Thompson paused and smiled. "There’s no question that I’d win anyway," he said.
It’s a bold statement from a confident player who believes his Buckeyes are better than the team that finds itself in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. To be sure, a deep postseason run isn't crazy talk with coach Thad Matta, who’s on the cusp of becoming the school’s winningest coach, at the helm and star freshman D'Angelo Russell lighting up opposing defenses for 19 points a game (he scored 28 against Purdue on Sunday night).
"I think every team is obviously different. I haven’t thought that far ahead, but for (Sam) — I like him thinking that way just in terms of he’s been to a Final Four, he’s been so close to a Final Four," Matta said. "From my perspective, I just want to win tomorrow night’s game and play as well as he can."
Because if the Buckeyes, who play Penn State Wednesday night in State College, falter in another road trip (they're 3-7 away from home), Thompson's suggestion that Ohio State's capable of reaching the sport's mecca is all for none.
"They’re a team that plays hard, they make shots, they play tough and they’re going to leave it all out on the floor," Thompson said. "We have to match their energy, we need to match their intensity."
After beating the Boilermakers, 65-61, Ohio State has won three-straight games since a clumsy loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor two weekends ago. Thompson said the Buckeyes remain guarded of letting something similar happen again.
"Just like I said after Purdue, it’s too late for letdowns. Everyone in that locker room understands that it’s too late for letdowns. We can’t, in the month of March, come out and lay an egg the way that we did against Michigan," he said.
"We all have a sense of urgency about us, we all know what’s at stake. It’s our job to go out and execute."