After an upset-filled start to the NCAA Tournament, things were back to business in the Round of 32. With the first weekend of March Madness over, there are just 16 teams left fighting for a trip to the Final Four. Each region features a duo of very intriguing matchups, but the matchup between Ohio State and Cincinnati in Boston may be one of the most anticipated.
Not only are these two squads from the same state, which is sending a record four teams to this year’s regional semifinals, but they also have a long history together. These two teams met in the 1961 and 1962 championship games, with Ed Jucker’s Cincinnati squadron winning both of those contests. They will meet in the tournament for the first time since the later of those two matchups on Thursday with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
Ohio State is on its way to the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row. The Buckeyes have earned the right to do so after knocking off Loyola (MD) and Gonzaga in Pittsburgh.
In their second-round meeting with the MAAC champs, Ohio State dominated on its way to a 78-59 victory. William Buford scored 17 points and Jared Sullinger had a double-double, but Deshaun Thomas stole the show. Thomas, a sophomore forward from Indiana, scored 31 points and added 12 rebounds.
The whole entire starting lineup showed up to play when the Buckeyes faced off with Gonzaga in the Round of 32. The Bulldogs gave Ohio State a much tougher test than Loyola did, as the Buckeyes just barely broke away at the end for a 73-66 victory.
Sullinger and Thomas helped the Buckeyes’ effort with 18 points each, but sophomore guard Aaron Craft was the game’s true hero. Craft, who is known as one of the nation’s top perimeter defenders, played the entire game and scored 17 points while also adding 10 assists.
As for Cincinnati, it had to knock off two major conference teams on its way to the Sweet Sixteen. In the Round of 64, the Bearcats defeated Texas 65-59 after taking a 31-17 halftime lead. Senior forward Yancy Gates took over, with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
With just one spot left in the Sweet Sixteen, Cincinnati faced off with ACC champion Florida State. The sixth-seeded Bearcats kept up with the third-seeded Seminoles all game and broke away in the final seconds to clinch a 62-56 victory. Guard Sean Kilpatrick was the team’s leading scorer, as he knocked down 18 points, 12 of which came from threes.
On paper the Buckeyes are the clear the favorites to advance to the Elite Eight, but Cincinnati is a prime example of a team getting hot at the right time. The Bearcats have lost just three of their last 14 games after losing three games in a row. This is unfathomable considering where they were at the start to the season, as they had bench-clearing brawl following a 76-53 loss to Xavier in December. They somehow managed to make it to the Big East Tournament Finals two weeks ago after knocking off Syracuse71-68 in the semifinals.
Ohio State has been just as successful of late, but it has not been as dominant as it was earlier in the season.
This being said, Cincinnati will certainly give Ohio State a run for its money, but the Buckeyes should be able to prevail in the end.
Jared Sullinger could have been a top pick in the NBA a year ago, but he decided to come back to Columbus to win a title. He is not going to let his team get upset in the Sweet Sixteen two years in a row and all of his teammates are going to add to the effort.
The Buckeyes are a much more well-rounded team than they were a year ago and the performance of Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and William Buford added to the power of Sullinger should have Ohio State back in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2007.