Buckeyes Tabbed to Win Title
By Brandon Castel
Don’t tell Ohio State coach Thad Matta, but his team is being picked as the favorite to win the 2011 NCAA National Championship.
That is the last thing Matta wants his team to hear as they prepare for their opening-round game in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, especially since those doing the picking are Las Vegas odds-makers.
With a 32-2 record, the Buckeyes finished the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the polls, and they earned the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament just moments after wrapping up their second-straight Big Ten Tournament title.
For that, Ohio State has been established as the early favorite to win this year’s tournament. Some Las Vegas sports books have given them 6-1 odds and others 7-2, while some have even talked about going low as 5-2 before games official tipoff, despite the fact the Buckeyes were given a less than favorable draw from the selection committee.
“There's four legit national champion contenders in the same bracket,” Mike Colbert told the Associated Press in Las Vegas.
“Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky. It's a loaded bracket. It doesn't make any sense.”
Colbert runs the sports books at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, M Resort, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Tropicana, so he has been around the block many times when it comes to March Madness, which is big business in Las Vegas.
Behind Ohio State, the odds-makers like Kansas—the No. 1 seed in the Southwest Region—as the second-favorite to win the tournament at 5-1 odds. Following the Jayhawks are the remaining No. 1 seeds Duke, at 9-1 odds, and Pitt, at 10-1 odds.
The Panthers are the top seed in the Southeast Region, and would appear to have the easiest path to the Final Four, something that doesn’t sit well with Jay Kornegay, the executive director at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book.
“Actually, Pitt and Ohio State should be switching spots,” Kornegay told the AP.
“Ohio State should be No. 1 in the easier Southeast, and Pitt in the East. It's unusual for the overall No. 1 to have to deal with that kind of competition.”
The competition in the East Region is so fierce that some Las Vegas odds-makers are putting both North Carolina and Kentucky at 17-1 odds. That might not sound like great odds compared to Ohio State, but it would put the Tar Heels and Wildcats right behind the four No. 1 seeds.
Kentucky has won more national titles (7) than any school in the country other than UCLA (11). They haven’t won one since 1998, the first season under former coach Tubby Smith’s first season, but current coach John Calipari is only four years removed from taking Memphis to the title game.
With five national titles under their belt, North Carolina is tied with Indiana for the third-most all-time. They are coming of an NIT championship last season, but have won a pair of national championships (2005 and 2008) under current head coach Roy Williams.
Also in Ohio State’s region is Syracuse, who won a national title in 2003 under current head coach Jim Boeheim, along with Villanova and Marquette, who won titles back in 1985 and 1977, respectively.
The Buckeyes have not won a national championship in men’s basketball since 1960. That was former coach Fred Taylor’s second year on the job after taking over for Floyd Stahl, and he stacked roster that included Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, along with future Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight.
Ohio State has been to one national championship game under Matta, who guided them to the 2007 title game against Florida. They lost in last year’s Sweet 16 to Tennessee.
*The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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