For years, Cincinnati and Ohio State fans have been clamoring for a matchup, and despite the fact that the two schools are located just a couple of hours apart, it never happens. After Thursday night's Sweet 16 matchup, Bearcats fans could be wishing it never did.
On Thursday night at the TD Garden, the Buckeyes and Bearcats will meet for only the second time in the last 50 years. The last time they played, Ohio State walked away with a 72-50 romp.
Both sides seem to be similarly tight-lipped when it comes to the reasons why these teams don't put their rivalry on display on a regular basis the way Iowa and Iowa State or Louisville and Kentucky do, but there are plenty of allegations to go around. Each has accused the other of recruiting violations; there's Ohio State's insistence that it won't leave its campus to play another Ohio school, and Cincinnati's similar stubbornness.
Nevertheless, the two will face off in this year's Big Dance, where everything is out of the athletic directors' control, on neutral ground.
The Big East was perhaps the strongest conference in the country this year, and the Bearcats finished fifth with a 12-6 conference record, 26-10 overall. They had a handful of wins over ranked teams, including a 71-68 defeat of Syracuse in the conference tournament before falling to Louisville, which helped them earn a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Cincinnati's first two games were battles—after a 65-59 win over Texas in the first round, the Bearcats fought to the end against Florida State, eking out a 62-56 victory with some key possessions down the stretch.
But then there's Ohio State, ranked fifth in the RPI (Cincinnati is 34th) and runners-up in the Big 12 after losing in the conference championship to Michigan State. To get to this point, it dispatched Loyola-Maryland with ease before facing stiff competition in Gonzaga. In a 73-66 win, Aaron Craft excelled, notching 17 points and 10 assists.
The Buckeyes score 75.1 points per game, 35th overall in the nation, and their .486 field-goal percentage is 12th in the nation. By comparison, the Bearcats rank 166th in points per game and 249th in field-goal percentage.
Leading that dominant force is All-American forward Jared Sullinger, who—with 17.6 points per game and 9.3 rebounds—is a chore to defend.
Just ask Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin.
"You try to think about how you're going to stop them, it's head scratching," he told the Associated Press. "You're going to have to pick your poison in some places. They're that good on offense."
Moreover, the Buckeyes have experience. Of the field of 16 teams left in the tournament, only Ohio State and Kentucky have advanced this far in the last three seasons. This is the Buckeyes' third straight trip to the Sweet 16, and they're desperate to make sure their road doesn't end there, like it has for the last two seasons.
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, this seems to be the year the Buckeyes will make sure history doesn't repeat itself.