At this point, no one can blame Ohio State fans if they're already cautiously booking plans for Atlanta.
The Buckeyes have won nine in a row. They strolled through the tournament of the best conference in America. They destroyed Iona by 25 and got a career-night from a crucial role player in the process.
The other top seeds in the West, meanwhile, have been falling like the Berlin Wall, and Gonzaga, the only team ranked higher than OSU, looked shaky against No. 16 Southern.
Combine the recent scorching play with the suddenly clear, serene path to the Final Four, and it's not surprising that players like LaQuinton Ross are saying things like this (via Eleven Warriors' Kyle Rowland):
Kyle Rowland @KyleRowland
LaQuinton Ross said the West Region upsets have been eye-opening. Said its exciting knowing higher seeds down the road are eliminated.3/23/2013, 7:37:59 PM
Whoa there, young fella'.
If any of the Buckeyes, for one second, start looking "down the road" instead of concentrating on No. 10 Iowa State, they will lose.
The Cyclones are simply too dangerous to ignore.
Fred Hoiberg's squad has a senior point guard in Korie Lucious who knows a little something about the beauty and unpredictability of March Madness:
Will Clyburn and Melvin Ejim are versatile big men who rebound ferociously and score from all over the court. Chris Babb is one of the best perimeter defenders in America. Tyrus McGee, the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, shoots at a staggering 46.0 percent clip from the outside.
Oh, and all of those guys are upperclassmen, too.
The Cyclones are a fast-paced, offensive powerhouse. They are 23rd in the country in effective field-goal percentage, 13th in points per possession, 39th in assist-to-turnover ratio and rebound the ball extremely well.
That's considerably more distressing when you consider how they beat Notre Dame by 18 points in the round of 64 (via CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein):
Jon Rothstein @JonRothstein
Can't say enough about Iowa State's defense tonight. Held Notre Dame to 43% from the field, 4-17 from 3. Forced 17 turnovers. Impressive.3/23/2013, 4:09:47 AM
Essentially, a team known for offensive prowess and defensive inconsistency beat an efficient Irish squad (18th in Ken Pomeroy's offensive efficiency rankings) by way of defense and hard-nosed play.
That should have the Buckeyes on very high alert.
You don't have to worry about Aaron Craft. The heady point guard was diving all over the place against No. 15 Iona and would give 110 percent against South Northeastern State Tech, let alone Iowa State.
Same goes for veterans like Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith and Evan Ravenel.
But Thad Matta needs to make sure young important role players like Ross, Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott are focused for a battle against one of the nation's most adaptable, experienced and dangerous teams.
Otherwise, that "easy" road to the Final Four suddenly won't look so manageable from home.
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