The good news is that Ohio State won’t need to go through Kentucky to make the Final Four. The bad news is that the Buckeyes got a draw that could be almost as difficult.
After a frustrating loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament Final, Ohio State lost its shot at a 1-seed; a win would have likely set up the team as the West Region’s top seed. Instead that position went to the Spartans. The loss was big for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Buckeyes must now face 1-seed Syracuse and its troublesome zone play in order to win a National Championship.
Of course, thinking about a title is premature at this point given the hurdles that lay ahead.
Bounced by the Wildcats in 2011, Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes will be looking for a different NCAA Tourney result this year (Trish/ northjerseysports.com)
In the Round of 64, the 2-seed Buckeyes will square off against Loyola (MD). The Greyhounds won the Metro Atlantic with a 24-8 (13.5) record to get back to their first Big Dance since 1994. While OSU should certainly handle its business in the opener for both teams, a victory means a difficult Round of 32 matchup, regardless of what else happens in the Pittsburgh subregional.
In the bottom of the East Region bracket, OSU, if victorious, would face the winner of Gonzaga-West Virginia. The 7-seed Bulldogs are a perennial tournament team that wouldn’t be flustered by facing a national power; Coach Mark Few guided his team to a 25-6 record, going 13-3 in the West Coast Conference and finishing second to St. Mary’s. The 10-seed Mountaineers are a physically tough team, and though their 19-13 record may not be overly impressive, they have the style of play that has presented problems for Ohio State this season.
Assuming that the Buckeyes can get past the winner of the 7/10 game, they’ll face whichever team emerges from the Nashville subregional: 6-seed Cincinnati, 11-seed Texas, 3-seed Florida State, or 14-seed St. Bonaventure. It’s a pretty safe bet that FSU will send the Bonnies packing, but the Cincy-Texas matchup is a bit harder to predict. The Bearcats narrowly lost the Big East Tournament Final and are playing well, while Texas eked into the field of 68 as one of the nation’s most hotly-debated bubble teams. However, the Longhorns shouldn’t be overlooked.
If the favorites hold, a Cincinnati-Florida State matchup in the Round of 32 would represent a fantastic game. Cincy, led by Yancy Gates, is playing as well as it has all year, while the Seminoles are coming off of an ACC Tournament championship. For Ohio State, either team would be a significant challenge.
On paper, the Bearcats might present the scarier matchup. like WVU, they play a physical game and have the inside presence to compete with Jared Sullinger. In contrast, Florida State has changed its makeup since bidding farewell to star Chris Singleton, developing a strong outside game that would force the Buckeyes to ratchet up their perimeter defense. Against the Tarheels, FSU went 11 of 22 from beyond the arc.
If Ohio State is able to battle its way through the Sweet 16, it would, in all probability, collide with Syracuse. The nation’s second best team overall, the Orange have a lineup littered with scoring threats. They also play a highly effective zone defense that has given opposing teams fits all season long. After compiling one of the best Big East campaigns in recent history, Syracuse fell in the conference tournament because Cincinnati was able to exploit that zone, finding the weak points and draining three-pointers. But even hitting 10 of 22 from long range, the Bearcats were barely able to hang on at the end of the game.
Ohio State is one of the nation’s poorer three-point shooting teams, barely inside the Top 300 in terms of made shots per game. That doesn’t bode particularly well for the Buckeyes if indeed they must face the Orange to get to the Final Four.
However, OSU’s placement in the East isn’t all bad. Florida State (3), Wisconsin (4), and Vanderbilt (5) are all talented but beatable teams, and if they play to their potential, the Buckeyes should get to the Elite 8.
Morever, they avoid the South Region. Last season the Bucks saw their tourney run end at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats, thanks in large part to an abysmal shooting day from William Buford. While the team’s overall shooting percentage of 32.8% was ugly enough, Buford’s 2 for 16 performance was downright unwatchable. Still, he had a chance to redeem himself when he got the game’s final shot, one that, if successful, would have propelled the Buckeyes to victory.
It just missed.
This season, Buford is the team’s lone senior and will be looking to write a better ending. But he should be glad the script won’t involve a meeting with the South’s 1-seed. As the country’s top team, the Wildcats put together an astounding season. They lost only once– a one-point stumble against Indiana– before dropping the SEC Tournament Final to Vanderbilt. Freshman forward Anthony Davis is the best player in the country and could be a one-man wrecking crew as Kentucky begins its title run.
If the Buckeyes earn a rematch with UK, it won’t be until the Championship Game.
While Thomas (left) and Buford struggled, MSU's Draymond Green willed his team to victory in the Big Ten Tourney (Lyons/ Getty)
When presented with their tournament fate, the Buckeyes looked disappointed and subdued on Sunday. That wasn’t surprising, considering they had just dropped the rubber game against Sparty and watched both a Big Ten title and a 1-seed slip out of their collective grasp. Ohio State had control of Sunday’s game on several occasions but missed too many big shots down the stretch.
If there was a single turning point in the contest, it was Michigan State’s ability to bounce back from an 11-3 OSU run that knocked senior Draymond Green out of the game. With its best player temporarily absent and facing a sudden seven point deficit, the Spartans could have easily fallen behind for good.
Instead, Brandon Wood nailed some big threes and MSU engineered a run of its own to retake the lead.
The Buckeyes were a pathetic 4 of 17 from three-point range. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas both shot 33% from the floor. Jared Sullinger missed much of the first half with foul trouble, and Aaron Craft had to sit late in the second with four fouls of his own. All in all, OSU made too many mistakes and went cold at all the wrong times.
This is a weakness that should have Coach Thad Matta very concerned. This is a talented team, but its tendency to be one-dimensional could be a fatal flaw. Ohio State is good enough defensively to make a deep tourney run, but unless they can expand their offensive repertoire, these Buckeyes are unlikely to see a Final Four.
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