With a couple impressive wins in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, Ohio State stamped its ticket to New Orleans and the coveted Final Four, which could be one of the most exciting in history. There are no small schools, Cinderella stories or underdogs in this year's last few days of the Big Dance. Instead, four schools with great tradition and rabid fans are headed to the Big Easy. In fact, despite one of the best fan bases in college sports, there is no doubt that the Buckeyes are the team with the least impressive resume from a basketball history standpoint. Kentucky, Kansas and Louisville have storied hoops programs, possibly only paralleled by North Carolina, UCLA, Indiana and Duke. This is an incredible foursome, and somewhere in New York CBS executives are high fiving over champagne, because television viewership should be at an all-time high.
Quick Recap: So how did Ohio State get here? Well, last week they had to knock off a pesky instate rival in Cincinnati and a high profile juggernaut in Syracuse. The Bearcats never struck me as a huge threat, because of their lack of length. I thought Sully would eat Yancey Gates for supper, and he did, outscoring him 23-7, and out rebounding him 11-5. Although there were some anxious moments in the early moments of the second half, the better team prevailed, despite terrible play from senior William Buford. Both Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith provided the extra scoring punch, and Aaron Craft's defense may have been his finest of the season. In the end, OSU walked off with an 81-66 victory that wasn't quite as easy as the final score would indicate.
Upcoming Matchups: While I will not attempt a game preview (which Ken will supply later this week), I do have a few comments on this weekend's games. First of all, I like playing Kansas again, not only because it provides the opportunity for revenge, but because I believe Ohio State matches up well with the Jayhawks. When the two played at Lawrence, Kansas, on December 10th, OSU was missing Sully, so this will be a completely different game than the one won by Kansas 78-67. Obviously, the Jayhawks have two superstars in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, but I'm not that impressed by the rest of their lineup. Simply put, I think the Ohio State starters are better than the five that Kansas will send onto the floor. So, while they are a worthy opponent, as evidenced by their 31-6 record, I like the matchup and feel Ohio State will win if they play a good game.
If the Buckeyes win, they will face the possibility of playing the Goliath of the tournament in Kentucky. That is not a foregone conclusion, however, because Louisville is a fiece team that plays great defense and is coached by one of the best in Rick Pitino. Still, I think UK has too many weapons for the Cards, and will prevail in a dogfight. If that is the case, Ohio State will play a team with the kind of length that gives them fits. Can Ohio State defeat Kentucky? Of course they can because anything is possible in one game. But I think they would need some foul trouble from the UK big men, and some hot shooting from William Buford to pull it off. However, we'll cross that bridge when and if we come to it. Let's take care of Kansas, first, and see what happens.