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Elise Amendola, Associated Press
Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger celebrates his team's 77-70 victory over Syracuse in the East Regional final game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 24, 2012, in Boston.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the preseason publications started listing Ohio State as the favorite in the Big Ten and among the top handful of teams in the nation, coach Thad Matta had an uneasy feeling.

He knew it was difficult for outsiders to see, but even a team with a returning first-team All-American in Jared Sullinger and several other blue-chip players has growing pains.

The Buckeyes were missing three valuable starters from a team that spent most of the previous year at No. 1. He knew it's never easy to replace longtime stars. He also knew there would be ups and downs along the way.

Yet here the Buckeyes are, headed to the Final Four and a matchup with Kansas in the national semifinals on Saturday in New Orleans.