College basketball has been building up to the release of the 2013 NCAA tournament bracket since the ball was tipped in November. While those “feast week” contests took place long ago, the wait until Thursday’s action will seem even longer to college basketball fans.
Yes, the play-in games (or first round if you want to get official) serve as a nice appetizer, but true hoop heads are salivating for the wall-to-wall coverage that Thursday will bring. Have no fear, though, because a 24-hour sports media that is dominated by talking heads and argumentative banter will be there to fill your hoop-less void.
Parity has been the buzzword of the season among those media members as top team after top team continued to fall during the year. So how does that perceived parity impact the experts' views on a squad like the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are the No. 2 seed in the West Region and have experienced their share of ups and downs much like the other top teams in the bracket?
First off, Thad Matta’s team is in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, which includes a Big Ten tournament championship and wins victories over Indiana and Michigan State. “Experts” are often quite reactionary, so the recent hot streak, which has been fueled by the offensive emergence of media darling Aaron Craft, probably factors into much of this breakdown.
With that in mind, let’s turn to the tape and start by reviewing the opinions of the analysts at the worldwide leader.
Seth Greenberg has the Buckeyes making it to the finals of the West Region (the Elite Eight), only to lose to the No. 1 seed Gonzaga. He points out that the Bulldogs have a particularly strong frontcourt, which can certainly be considered an Ohio State weakness.
Jay Bilas on the other hand has the Buckeyes knocking off the Zags behind their strong defense to clinch a second straight Final Four berth. Bilas’ eventual national champion Louisville then eliminates Ohio State in his scenario.
Digger Phelps injects a heavy dose of Big Ten Kool-Aid into the process with an Elite Eight that includes the Buckeyes, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana. Ohio State already won the Big Ten tournament once, and it beats the Badgers and Spartans en route to a national championship game loss to Miami. Chances are Buckeye fans will take the real national title win over Miami in the 2003 football game over Phelps’ hypothetical trophy.
Jay Williams has been an Ohio State proponent all season, and he took that support to the ultimate level by declaring the Buckeyes as the national champion on his bracket. He stresses the emergence of Aaron Craft and the rest of an offensive supporting cast for Deshaun Thomas and of course the lockdown defense.
Dick Vitale, a bit louder than the rest of his compatriots, expresses his belief that the Buckeyes will make the Final Four but fall to the overall No. 1 seed Louisville Cardinals once they get there.
Outside of Bristol, Fox Sports’ Reid Forgrave hints that Ohio State’s physical defensive approach will give Gonzaga fits in the Elite Eight. He didn’t actually pick a winner, but his worst-case scenario seems to be a close loss to the Bulldogs.
Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde includes Ohio State in his list of Elite Eight qualifiers and also names Craft among his five must-watch players in the entire NCAA tournament. Forde points to Craft’s stellar March numbers and defensive brilliance, all while summarizing the polarizing quality of his game.
CBS Sports, in a fashion similar to ESPN but less video friendly, accumulated the brackets of seven of its experts. Gary Parrish has the Buckeyes losing a rematch to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, Jeff Borzello and Jerry Palm have them falling to Louisville in the Final Four and Dennis Dodd sees New Mexico knocking Thad Matta’s squad out in the Sweet 16.
Jeff Goodman also has Ohio State losing in the Sweet 16, although the opponent is Arizona.
Matt Norlander must have had the nightmares of Buckeye fans in mind when filling out his bracket because the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, not exactly the favorite school of Ohio State’s sizable fanbase, upset Craft and Co. in the second game.
In somewhat of a metaphor for the entire Ohio State season, the experts have the Buckeyes finishing anywhere from winning the national championship to losing during the tournament’s first weekend. It is notable that many see Matta’s squad qualifying for the Final Four two seasons in a row, even though the path will not be easy.
While the analysis from all of these experts is insightful, there is one prediction that Ohio State supporters should seek out. CBS Sports’ Greg Doyel lists the Scarlet and Gray as his national title winner, but it is the opponent that stands out—Trey Burke and the hated Michigan Wolverines.
If that were to happen, Buckeye Nation would probably implode in joy.