Thinking Out Loud about Ohio State’s Bracket
By Brandon Castel
CHICAGO — The tournament field is set. The brackets are out. The picks are rolling in.
March Madness is officially here. Is there a better time of year in sports? The Super Bowl is probably the single-biggest American sporting even of the year. The World Series is always fun and who doesn’t love a compelling Stanley Cup playoff series?
NCAA college football will always be king of the amateur sports, but nothing can capture the magic, the pageantry and the excitement of a 68-team, win-or-go-home, buzzer-beating filled tournament.
The Buckeyes grabbed a No. 2-seed in this year’s tournament. Here are some early thoughts on their draw, the West Region and what is in store for Thad Matta’s team over the next few weeks.
1. Buckeyes should be thankful Gonzaga got a 1-seed. It was pretty clear all along Ohio State wasn’t in the running for a No. 1-seed in this year’s tournament. That was confirmed when the Buckeyes received the fourth and final 2-seed on Sunday evening, but that doesn’t automatically make for the worst draw. In fact, the selection committee has expressed that it doesn’t weight seeds that way, which explains why OSU ended up in the same region as Gonzaga, the fourth and final No. 1-seed in this year’s field of 68.
While Gonzaga finished the season as the No. 1 team in the final AP Poll, Thad Matta has to like the idea of being paired with a team like the Zags instead of a 1-seed like Louisville or Kansas. Both of those teams are early favorites to win the whole dance, while Gonzaga is a trendy pick for an early upset.
That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Mark Few is proven to be an excellent coach and the Bulldogs have won or tied for 12 of the last 13 West Coast Conference championships. They have been to the Sweet 16 four times under Few, and gave Ohio State a tremendous battle in last year’s tournament.
But Gonzaga is one of the weaker No. 1 seeds the tournament has seen in years. Their strength of schedule (97) is the worst of any No. 1 seed in the last 20 years. Compare that to Miami (Fla.), the top-ranked No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Hurricanes finished the year ranked No. 4 in the RPI and No. 6 in strength of schedule. They won both the regular season and tournament titles in the ACC and, on paper, look like a much more dangerous team than Gonzaga.
2. It’s not going to be as easy as it looks. That doesn’t mean Gonzaga is going to be a push-over. They are still one of the better team in the country this year, despite that glaring loss to Illinois early in the season. Ohio State fans know all too well how Illinois can rise up and shoot the lights out a couple times a year. That’s exactly what happened in that game back in December. The Fighting Illini shot 50 percent from the floor and made 11 threes in an 85-74 win over the Bulldogs. Brandon Paul led the way with 35 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
But it’s not just Gonzaga. The West Region is short on national powerhouse names this year, but the bracket is sneaky good across the middle. New Mexico is a wildcard as the No. 3-seed. They had the No. 2 RPI and No. 2 strength of schedule in the country during the regular season, but Wisconsin is a pretty dangerous 5-seed and just about everyone thought Arizona was under-seeded as a six in the West Region.
Whoever wins the Notre Dame-Iowa State game will be a tough out for the Buckeyes in the second round, and even 8-seed Pitt could pull off an upset if Gonzaga isn’t ready for them in the second round. The Panthers are 7-1 in first round games under head coach Jamie Dixon.
3. There was a lot riding on the Big Ten Tournament. Maybe not on Sunday’s championship match between Ohio State and Wisconsin, but it’s pretty obvious there was some attention on the semifinal matchups between Indiana-Wisconsin and Ohio State-Michigan State. For starters, the Hoosiers were expected to get the over all No. 1 seed in the tournament and a cushy path to the Final Four in Indianapolis. The loss to Wisconsin knocked them down to No. 4 in the final AP Poll, and Louisville ended up with the top overall seed and the No. 1 slot in the Midwest Region. Indiana still got a 1-seed in the East, and probably an easier path to the Final Four in terms of competition, but the fact Louisville won the Big East Tournament while Indiana failed to reach the final definitely seemed to make a difference.
The same could be said for Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes’ narrow 61-58 win over the Spartans on Saturday appears to have been the difference between a 2-seed and a 3-seed for the Scarlet and Gray. Ohio State ended up as the overall No. 8 seed in the tournament, three spots ahead of Michigan State at No. 11. That was enough to get the Buckeyes a 2-seed in the West, while Tom Izzo and the Spartans ended up as a 3-seed in the brutal Midwest bracket. They are paired with Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and a 2-seeded Duke team that has lost only one game all year with a healthy Ryan Kelly.
4. The Wisconsin draw is interesting. I can’t think of another year where the two teams that played on Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament championship game ended up in the same region. Maybe it has happened before, but not to my recollection. The Buckeyes were definitely motivated to show the Badgers they were a lot tougher than they looked in a 22-point loss up in Madison earlier this year. Ohio State’s 50-43 win on Sunday was supposed to be the rubber match between these two B1G rivals, but now it’s possible they could see each other again in the tournament, and not that far down the road.
If the Buckeyes take care of their business in Dayton this weekend, they would advance to Los Angeles next week to play the winner of the 3-14 and 7-10 portion of the West bracket. The favorite there would be 3-seed New Mexico, and if the Buckeyes can get out of the Sweet 16, they could, in theory, find themselves matched up with Bo Ryan and his boys again in the Elite Eight.
The Badgers have an even tougher road to get there. They have to worry about 12-seed Ole Miss in the first round, a squad coming off an SEC Tournament title over the weekend. If they get out of that dreaded 5-12 matchup, they could end up facing former Big Ten foe Bruce Weber and Kansas State in the second round. A trip to California would probably mean a matchup with No. 1 seed Gonzaga before they would get another shot at the Buckeyes.
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