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Last updated: 03/15/2012 0:08 AM
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Men's Basketball
Around the-Ozone Water Cooler — How far will Ohio State advance in this year's NCAA Tournament, and which team will be the one to knock them out (if any), and why?
By the-Ozone Staff

Well, it wouldn't be a water cooler in March if there wasn't bracket talk going on. You know how it goes, everybody talking about Final Four picks while patiently waiting for everyone else to stop talking about theirs because you only really care about yours. It's an annual tradition right up there with bragging about how much food you ate on New Years Day.

We all have our own opinions about this year's tournament, though obviously we can only tell you about our own, since we tune everyone else out when they're talking.

This week we talk about how far the Buckeyes are going to go, and which team is most likely to end their season. Fortunately, we waited long enough for Syracuse to screw themselves before we gave our answers.

Brandon Castel — This is actually a much tougher question to answer than it might seem at first. Picking when and where a team will lose in the tournament is never easy, but it is almost impossible with this Ohio State team, especially after what has happened the last two seasons.

Count me among those who still believe Ohio State was the best team in the country a year ago. They obviously didn’t prove it in the tournament, but that’s why they call it March Madness. It is almost the exception when the clear-cut best team in the country during the regular season is the one to cut down the nets.

If we are simply comparing this year’s OSU team to last year, there is no comparison, in my opinion. Last year’s team had everything you could want in a team, except for a bench. If Deshaun Thomas had given Thad Matta enough reason to bring him off the bench consistently last year, then maybe the Buckeyes could have overcome a 2-for-16 shooting night from William Buford.

Buford is going to be the key again this year, but the most critical thing he must avoid in the tournament is a 2-for-14, 3-for-15 type shooting night that makes it tough on the Buckeyes. There is not a team in their region that Ohio State can’t beat if this team is clicking on all cylinders.

If they have Buford, Thomas and Jared Sullinger going at once, and if they are sharing the basketball and playing solid defense, the Buckeyes could make it all the way to the Final Four. I’m not convinced they can get past a team like North Carolina or Kansas once they get to Boston, but I like their chances a lot better against Syracuse without Fab Melo.

This is also a team that could get bounced in the second round by Gonzaga or West Virginia if it is playing selfish basketball and relying solely on Sullinger and Thomas to do all the scoring.

Ultimately, I think this team will make it to the Sweet 16, and finally get out of that round and on to the Elite Eight, but that’s as far as I can see them going at this point. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Vanderbilt could be the team to send them home, which would make three straight years for SEC.

Tony Gerdeman — As ridiculously loaded as last year's region was for Ohio State, this one is almost the polar opposite. It was already a relatively favorable bracket when it was first announced, and has only become more so since the announcement of Fab Melo's unfortunate ineligibility.

However, if Ohio State starts punching their ticket to New Orleans now, they'll never make it. Syracuse's loss is certainly the Buckeyes' gain, but the accounting shouldn't be done until Ohio State actually reaches that point.

That being said, the Buckeyes will likely be favored in every game that they play in the East Regional, which makes finding a loss difficult to do.

Making the Final Four is unlikely, just by simple math. However, as I look for teams to beat them, all I see are flaws. West Virginia will likely be a test in the third round, as would Florida State in the round after that. However, these are also two teams that could both lose in the second round, or make it to the Elite Eight.

When I look at Vanderbilt or Wisconsin, I see them both losing in their first game. That means if Syracuse can get past their third round opponent, they will still likely make it to the Regional Final despite losing Melo.

But since I can't pick Syracuse to make it to the Final Four because it's just not wise, I guess that means I have to take Ohio State. Process of elimination seems like a much safer tack.

That leaves somebody from the Midwest Region. My pick to beat Ohio State is North Carolina. They are similar to Michigan State in that they will look to run, and with how poorly the Buckeyes get back on defense, it's not a good matchup for Ohio State.

Also, I'm assuming Tar Heel power forward John Henson will be healthy by this point, thereby giving North Carolina the advantage in the front court with he and Tyler Zeller.

North Carolina will force a fast pace in this game, which is not always to Ohio State's benefit. And it may also help neutralize Ohio State's half-court game, thereby handcuffing Jared Sullinger even more than the Tar Heels' size will.

Ben Axelrod — If I was forced to rank the past three Ohio State basketball teams, the 2012 squad would be a distant third.

In 2010 with Evan Turner and 2011 with Jared Sullinger, you could definitively say that each time the Buckeyes played in a game, they had the best player on the court. With Sullinger not making the jump from his freshman to sophomore season that most expected him to make, I don’t think you can clearly say that with this year’s squad.

Having said that, I think that a failure to reach the Final Four this year would be more disappointing than it has been in either of OSU’s past two seasons. Unlike 2010, when the Buckeyes were the No. 2 seed in the No. 1 overall seed’s region, or 2011, when OSU’s region contained the four teams that earned No. 1 seeds this season, the Buckeyes could not have asked for an easier path to New Orleans.

As the No. 2 seed in the Boston region, OSU joins a Syracuse team that just lost its center and best defensive player to ineligibility issues, Florida State and Vanderbilt teams that earned higher seeds thanks to conference tournament championships that were won against North Carolina and Kentucky teams that already had No. 1 seeds wrapped up, and a Wisconsin team that has largely underachieved throughout this season.

With all of that in mind, I fully expect the Buckeyes to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007, even if this is Thad Matta’s least proven team in the past three seasons.

However, if one team were to knock off OSU on their path to New Orleans, I’d expect it to be Vanderbilt in a potential Elite Eight match-up. As we’ve learned over the course of the past two seasons, the key to beating the Buckeyes usually involves having a player score abnormal amount of points (i.e. Jordan Taylor, E’Twaun Moore, Brandon Paul), and the Commodores have a player capable of such feat in guard John Jenkins.

In order for Jenkins to get his shot at the Buckeyes, however, his team first must get past Harvard and potential match-ups with Wisconsin and Syracuse. And even if Vanderbilt finds itself in the Elite Eight, a career-high performance from Jenkins still might not be enough to stop an OSU squad that seems to be clicking exactly when it needs to be.

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