What could be described as the feel-good story of the Big Ten Conference in men's basketball involved Ohio State's turnaround this winter.
Following a 17-15 finish in which they failed to land in a postseason tournament and then hired Chris Holtmann to replace Thad Matta as coach, the Buckeyes battled for the Big Ten regular-season championship before settling for second and earned an NCAA tournament bid.
It was the kind of ending to his college career that Pickerington High School Central graduate and OSU senior forward Jae'Sean Tate was longing for when he entered the season.
"With all the adversity (surrounding the coaching change) from the summer and all the changes and the lack of success we've had the past couple years, it's been great," Tate said. "I would say (the success has come from) a fresh new approach and just being around the staff and players that have bought into what coach Holtmann has brought in."
Tate averages 12.5 points for the Buckeyes, who enter the NCAA tournament at 24-8 overall.
Freshman forward Kaleb Wesson, who was named Ohio's Mr. Basketball as a senior in 2017 and helped Westerville South win the Division I state championship in 2016, has handled the rigors of college basketball with apparent ease. He averages 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, is shooting nearly 57 percent from the floor and made the Big Ten all-freshman team.
Sophomore forward Andre Wesson, a 2016 Westerville South graduate and Kaleb's brother, has filled a key role for the Buckeyes off the bench the last two seasons.
"I love just having the opportunity to play with Ohio State across my chest," Tate said.
Among the other major college programs that will compete in the NCAA tournament and have ties to central Ohio are Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina.
Gahanna graduate Nick Ward is a sophomore forward for Michigan State who averages 12.5 points and seven rebounds. The Spartans are 29-4 overall and won the regular-season Big Ten championship at 16-2 as OSU and Purdue tied for second (15-3).
Michigan, which tied Nebraska for fourth at 13-5, won the conference tournament and enters the NCAA tournament at 28-7 overall.
Ibi Watson is a sophomore guard/forward for the Wolverines who averages 5.6 minutes per game and 2.4 points while coming off the bench.
Another Pickerington Central graduate who will play in the NCAA tournament is freshman center Sterling Manley, who was averaging 5.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 10.4 minutes per game for North Carolina entering the ACC tournament.
*MID-MAJOR DREAMS -- Jalen Tate, a 2016 Pickerington Central graduate and Jae'Sean's brother, started eight games last season for Northern Kentucky before receiving a medical redshirt because of a season-ending hand injury.
The Norse, who made the NCAA tournament a year ago, won the Horizon League regular-season title this year with Tate as one of their key players.
The redshirt freshman forward averaged 5.8 points as the Norse closed the regular season at 22-9.
Another area player who helped his team win a regular-season league championship was UNC-Asheville senior guard Kevin Vannatta, a 2014 Upper Arlington graduate.
He averages 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists for the Bulldogs, who were upset by Liberty 69-64 in the second round of the Big South tournament to fall to 21-12.
Vannatta has been a starter since early in his freshman season after leading UA to the Division I state championship game in 2014.
"I've had a key role on this team ever since I got into the school," he said. "It's been the greatest decision of my life to come here. Academically, it's a fantastic school, and we've been on ESPN2 or ESPNU a few times."
Harvard won a share of the regular-season Ivy League championship with Pennsylvania at 12-2 behind the standout play of 2016 Northland graduate Seth Towns, a sophomore forward who averages 16 points and 5.5 rebounds. He averaged 18.6 points in Ivy League action and was named conference Player of the Year.
*IN THE WOMEN'S DANCE -- Alexa Hart is getting her fourth chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
The Africentric graduate and Ohio State senior forward has spent most of this season coming off the bench, averaging five points and 3.2 rebounds.
She played 24 minutes and had five points and three rebounds as the Buckeyes beat Maryland 79-69 on March 4 to win the Big Ten tournament championship.
Two other players from the area whose teams are hoping to build on successful regular seasons are Westerville North graduate Symone Simmons and Johnstown graduate Paige Cannon.
Simmons is a junior guard for Wright State who averages 7.8 points and 8.1 rebounds. The Raiders are 23-10 overall and finished third in the Horizon League at 12-6.
"I love the role I play and that I'm able to contribute," Simmons said. "We all bring something different to the team and we're just trying to stay focused."
Cannon is a redshirt sophomore guard/forward for Duquesne who averages 5.7 points and 5.7 rebounds. The Dukes were regular-season runners-up in the Atlantic 10 at 13-3 but lost to Saint Louis 71-65 in the first round of the conference tournament March 2 to drop to 23-7 overall.
Regardless, Duquesne and Cannon both have taken a step forward this season. A year ago, the Dukes finished 18-16 and Cannon, who is Johnstown's all-time leading scorer with 1,742 points, missed most of her freshman season with a foot injury.
"We didn't have a great season last year, but I felt like we put it all together this year and got more mature," Cannon said. "I felt very stagnant last year in my first year back from an injury which was causing me to get a lot of fouls and turnovers, so I worked a lot on my footwork and got stronger and faster for this year."
@UlreyThisWeekAt a glance
Below are central Ohioans listed on rosters of men's college basketball teams that are competing in the NCAA and NIT and women's college basketball teams that are competing in the NCAA, NIT and WBI, along with their postseason openers:
PLAYER (HIGH SCHOOL), COLLEGE, TOURNAMENT: SCHEDULE
Matt Lehmann (Watterson), Ohio State, NCAA: March 15 vs. South Dakota State
Sterling Manley (Pickerington Central), North Carolina, NCAA: March 16 vs. Lipscomb
James Manns (Walnut Ridge), Wright State, NCAA: March 16 vs. Tennessee
Matt Moyer (Gahanna), Syracuse, NCAA: March 14 vs. Arizona State
Jae'Sean Tate (Pickerington Central), Ohio State, NCAA: March 15 vs. South Dakota State
Jalen Tate (Pickerington Central), Northern Kentucky, NIT: March 13 vs. Louisville
Seth Towns (Northland, Harvard), NIT: March 14 vs. Marquette
Kevin Vannatta (Upper Arlington), UNC Asheville, NIT: March 13 vs. USC
Nick Ward (Gahanna), Michigan State, NCAA: March 16 vs. Bucknell
Ibi Watson (Pickerington Central), Michigan, NCAA: March 15 vs. Montana
Andre Wesson (Westerville South), Ohio State, NCAA: March 15 vs. South Dakota State
Kaleb Wesson (Westerville South), Ohio State, NCAA: March 15 vs. South Dakota State
Danielle Bradley (Pickerington North), Quinnipiac, NCAA: March 17 vs. Miami (Fla.)
Paige Cannon (Johnstown), Duquesne, NIT: March 15 vs. Miami University
Kyasia Duling (New Albany), Saint Francis, NCAA: March 17 vs. Connecticut
Frannie Frazier (Thomas Worthington), Ball State. NIT: March 15 vs. Middle Tennessee
Alexa Hart (Africentric), Ohio State, NCAA: March 17 vs. George Washington
Savitha Jayaraman (Olentangy Liberty), Ohio State, NCAA: March 17 vs. George Washington
Kristen Levering (Olentangy Liberty), Miami University, NIT: March 15 vs. Duquesne
Leah Morrow (Africentric), Saint Francis, NCAA: March 17 vs. Connecticut
Ashleigh Parkinson (Newark Catholic), Dayton, NCAA: March 16 vs. Marquette
Bridgette Rettstatt (Worthington Christian), Liberty, NCAA: March 16 vs. Tennessee
Kym Royster (Newark), Indiana, NIT: March 15 vs. Tennessee-Martin
Symone Simmons (Westerville North), Wright State, NIT: March 16 vs. Toledo
Christine Szabo (Dublin Coffman), Dayton, NCAA: March 16 vs. Marquette
Jordan Toohey (Pickerington North), Radford, NIT: March 15 vs. Penn State
Bailey Williams (Dublin Jerome), Binghamton, WBI: March 14 vs. Youngstown State