First Impressions of Ohio State’s Bracket
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — Being the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament is supposed to be a reward for the best team in college basketball. It’s supposed to be the prize at the end of a long, grueling season for whatever team has been consistently great throughout the year.
This year, that team was Ohio State. With a 29-2 record, the Buckeyes captured the Big Ten championship during the regular season by two games over Purdue, and Sunday they repeated as champions of the Big Ten Tournament as well with a 71-60 win over Penn State.
Their reward: one of the toughest draws in the NCAA Tournament for a No. 1-seed courtesy of Gene Smith and the selection committee. Obviously Ohio State’s own athletic director wasn’t out to get them, but the committee didn’t do them a whole lot of favors by putting North Carolina, Syracuse, Kentucky and West Virginia in the East bracket alongside the Buckeyes.
“That's my first time ever getting the overall No. 1 seed,” fifth-year senior David Lighty said.
“Supposedly it's the best way to get to the national championship, so anything that can help us is good.”
Playing in downtown Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena should help the Buckeyes by making their first two games essentially home games away from the Schottenstein Center. OSU fans traveled to Indianapolis in droves for the conference the tournament, so they should be out in full force for Friday’s opening game against the winner of the Texas-San Antonio vs. Alabama State play-in game (Wednesday 6:30 p.m. ET, truTV).
Friday’s game is a mere formality for the Buckeyes. No 16-seed has ever knocked off a No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and this Ohio State team isn’t about to lay an egg of historical proportions. I supposed if they really showed up for Friday’s game like it was a glorified shoot-around, they might be able to give the game away, but that’s not about to happen with this group.
After that, the road to Houston gets a lot rockier. They will face either eight-seed George Mason or nine-seed Villanova in the second round, and both teams are capable of pulling the upset. If they advance to the second weekend of the tournament, they could face off against either 4-seed Kentucky or 5-seed West Virginia in the Sweet 16.
That’s where they were bounced by Tennessee a year ago, but if they can get past the opening game of the second weekend, the Buckeyes could face either 2-seed North Carolina or 3-seed Syracuse in the Elite 8.
First Impressions of the East Region
At first glance, the East region is loaded with big names on the front of the jersey. UNC, Kentucky and Syracuse three of the biggest programs in college basketball history, and teams like West Virginia, Xavier and Marquette have had some good success in the tournament over the past 20 years.
Even more impressive than the names on the front of the jerseys are some of the names walking the sidelines. Along with Thad Matta, the East Region features legends like Bob Huggins, John Calipari, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams.
Of that group, only Huggins has failed to take a team to the NCAA championship game, although he has taken two different teams to the Final Four. One of those teams is West Virginia, who went 31-7 last year and advanced to the Final Four before getting blown out by Duke 78-57.
On paper, it seems like a Murderer’s Row lineup for the Buckeyes to face if they want to play in the Final Four, where they would likely meet someone like Duke or UConn, but junior William Buford isn’t feeling the pressure.
“Pressure? For us?! Oh no. I feel we're confident in what we do,” he said after Sunday’s win over Penn State.
“People probably have expectations for us, but we have our own expectations, and we're just going to come out and play our game.”
That’s What It’s All About
As tough as this draw looks for the Buckeyes—and it looks a lot tougher than the path laid out before No. 1-seed Pittsburgh down in the Southeast Region, or even Duke in the West Region—there isn’t one team in the East Region that Ohio State cannot beat.
They proven all season they are the best team in the country, save for maybe Kansas, and if they play like it over the next two weekends they should have a spot in Houston waiting for them.
“It doesn't matter who we play,” Buford continued.
“There's a lot of great teams in our bracket, and we just know we've got to bring it every night and go hard. We can lose on any given night.”
That’s something the Buckeyes learned in last year’s NCAA Tournament. When they were handed the No. 2-seed in the same bracket as overall No. 1 Kansas a year ago, it looked like Ohio State had gotten the shaft from the selection committee.
Their bracket also included 3-seed Georgetown, 4-seed Maryland, 5-seed Michigan State, 6-seed Tennessee and 7-seed Oklahoma State.
It seemed like a nearly impossible field to navigate for a team like Ohio State, but that quickly changed after 14-seed Ohio University knocked off Georgetown in the first round. Georgia Tech took care of Oklahoma State and then 9-seed Northern Iowa dispatched of the top-ranked Jayhawks in the second round.
All of a sudden, the Midwest Region was wide open for the Buckeyes if they could get past the Volunteers in the Sweet 16, but it was not to be.
“We took too many plays off at Tennessee,” Buford said.
“They killed us on the glass and in the paint. It just left a sour taste in our mouth, and we don't want that taste no more.”
Who Poses the Biggest Challenge for Ohio State in the East Region?
Individually, it’s impossible to overlook players like Harrison Barnes at North Carolina or Isaiah Thomas at Washington, but the toughest matchup for the Buckeyes might be Syracuse.
Everyone wants to talk about Boeheim’s zone defense, but it’s really their size that might give the Buckeyes problems. Senior Rick Jackson and freshman Fabrecio Melo are both big bodies in the paint, and they also have size on the wing in junior Kris Joseph, sophomore James Southerland and freshman C.J. Fair.
Another team that might pose problems for the Buckeyes is Kentucky. The Wildcats aren’t nearly as dangerous as they would have been with Enes Kanter, who was ruled ineligible this season, but they still have a pair of talented freshmen in Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones. Doran Lamb and Darius Miller are guards who can shoot the three, but having Aaron Craft to guard Knight will give Ohio State an advantage that no one in the weak SEC had during the regular season or conference tournament.
Can the Buckeyes Get out of Their Region?
They have lost two games all year, both on the road at top-10 opponents. If Jared Sullinger can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, and the Buckeyes don’t continue their cold shooting from the Big Ten Tournament, there’s no reason they can’t be the team left standing from the East Region.
When Buford and Jon Diebler are hitting their shots, and this team is playing defense the way they have been for weeks now, they can beat anyone in the country.
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.