Ohio State, Cincinnati, Xavier and Cleveland State are all included in this edition of “Vegas Bracketology” published by Fox Sports and Don Best Sports gaming analyst Todd Furhman.
He has the Buckeyes highest at at No. 4 in a killer region with No. 1 seed Louisville, No. 2 Arizona and No. 3 Kentucky.
Cincinnati gets a six seed in another region while Xavier is rated as a No. 11 seed, Cleveland State is a 12 and Toledo a 13.
As Furhman freely admits, this bracket projection has some unique and surprising entires topped by Iowa receiving a top seed, but he explains the differences are a result of using the power numbers generated by Vegas oddsmakers.
This Ohio State team is scary in a lot of ways, and I mean that as a compliment and a criticism.
They can do almost everything, but it’s not always clear when they’ll do anything.
Some of the feelings that arise from watching this group of Buckeyes are no doubt a matter of perception, leftovers from a high preseason ranking and even the residual effect of last year’s excellent but disappointing team.
Nothing this squad has done has been in a vacuum. Expectations color every game. They made midseason losses to inferior talent from Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois seem intolerable but left room for an exhilarating comeback win at Michigan State to close the regular season and win the Big Ten title many thought they’d stroll to.
Ohio State can be misleading at both ends of the floor. Defensively they have very good numbers, but they also are prone to curious lapses. Length and athleticism sometimes allow them to overcome mistakes, but communication isn’t always perfect. Sometimes you wonder if they’ve ever heard of a boxout, but they have a lot of guys who can go out of their area to snag a board when they need it, too.
On the offensive end, they have a great low post scorer but no consistent outside shooter to form the classic inside-out game their offense is set up to be. Sure, they can hit threes, but it’s not a reliable part of the arsenal. That means they have to manufacture points despite not playing a system that is really set up to do that. Fortunately, they have a true hybrid scorer at the four position in Deshaun Thomas. A player once called the next LeBron James early in his Indiana high school career, Thomas sometimes gets lost in the talk about Jared Sullinger’s prodigious power inside and Aaron Craft’s pesky play on the perimeter, but he is a bona fide NBA prospect himself. Long-armed, quick-jumping and a little enigmatic, Thomas has a natural scoring touch inside 15 feet but plenty of range to step outside and hit from beyond the arc. When we talk about “glue guys”, we generally mean the ones who hold things together on the defensive end (where it should be noted Thomas has improved through the course of this season), but that’s what this guy has done of the Ohio State offense. He fills in the gaps, scoring from wherever and often whenever he is needed to get the Buckeyes over the top.
There’s something disconcerting about watching a team that does a lot of things well but doesn’t seem to do the same ones every night. Yet the former is really more important than the latter, especially at this time of year. It just tends to make things a little wilder along the way.
I think we’re also seeing the intermixing of talent and youth, two sometimes combustible partners. Last year’s team had already paid its dues. It was not only full of great shooters – including guys like Jon Diebler and David Lighty, who improved significantly through the course of their careers – but also guys who had been around the block and learned the importance of doing all the dirty work every night. That made it easy for Sullinger, Craft and occasionally Thomas to slide into defined roles as freshmen. All they had to do was a thing or two they naturally did well – score and rebound in the paint, smother an opposing guard or fill it up from wherever there’s an opening – and let the other guys worry about the hard stuff. This year has been much different for those guys with their names alone on the marquee, and it took a while for all of them to figure out how to adjust. There were some ugly moments that even now are tough to forget when projecting where this team will end up with two weekends of season left to play.
These Buckeyes are still not always aesthetically pleasing, but they’ve learned how to get the job done by whatever means necessary. How far will that take them? We won’t have to wait much longer to find out.
Syracuse and its vaunted 2-3 zone await in the regional final on Saturday. The Buckeyes and Orange will play for the right to go to the Final Four. Ohio State lacks the consistent three-point shooters to threaten such a defense in the most obvious way, but the Buckeyes have picked up ways to get inside and find openings that weren’t there earlier in the season.
And on top of that, for as much talk as there is about the times they don’t do everything they’re supposed to, there also remains the possibility someone – long lost senior William Buford, perhaps? – shows up with something added for one night and makes them that much more dangerous. It’s part of the beauty of sports, of March Madness in particular.
Well the weekend in Indianapolis was certainly an interesting one.
I have enjoyed covering the women’s Big Ten tournament there for the past six years, but this was my first trip for the men’s version, and I liked just about everything about it.
The whole thing was run very well, and the teams played their parts as well from Michigan’s comeback against Minnesota on Friday night to Ohio State’s big run to put away Purdue. Ohio State and Michigan State both dispatched of semifinal opponents then staged a classic in the championship game.
What do we think of the Buckeyes now?
Despite the loss to Michigan State, I feel better about their chances to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament.
However, I think we know who they are without question now. That’s both good and bad. There is without a doubt a lot of talent on the roster, but there are serious flaws that aren’t going to be fixed.
On the bright side, Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger were great mentally and physically all three days. Craft was really in his zone defensively, driving the opponents nuts and getting his hands on everything. He ran the show better than he has at times this year, too, and looked more aggressive on the drives. It’s big for him to look to score more than he was a couple of weeks ago. He got to the basket several times and finished at the rim, adding an important weapon to the attack.
Sullinger was frustrated a few times – he was far from the only one – by the officiating in the Michigan State game, but he really seemed locked in. He took advantage of mismatches against Purdue and Michigan, dominating those teams like a player of his talent and stature should, and then he dealt with Michigan State’s size better than he had the first two times the teams played this season.
Odds are those two will continue to excel in the next phase of the season, but how do we know what kind of help they will get? The other three starters all have the capability to do very good things, but I think it’s time to conclude William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are not going to be consistent threats. Some nights they are great, some nights they are liabilities one way or another. When they are good, the Buckeyes are very tough. When they aren’t, the team struggles. It is what it is.
Overall, covering the tournament was a heck of a lot of fun.
The two teams in the final went after each other for 40 minutes, and more than 17,000 fans were locked in throughout. The atmosphere was great, as was the building (too bad they’re moving it back to Chicago next year).
It made me realize a lot of the talk of the meaninglessness of the college basketball regular season and postseason tournaments is garbage. Putting aside the fact that the winner ended up being awarded a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, there were clearly 10 guys going at it full speed on every possession. Thousands of people were rising and falling with every bounce of the basketball, and my Twitter feed was stuffed with people doing the same thing from home.
Did the game have a direct effect on the national championship? Maybe not, although I would think Ohio State would rather see an undersized Missouri team in a regional final than Syracuse and it’s famous zone defense. How the brackets shake out with Michigan State awarded a top seed in the West and Ohio State sent East as a No. 2 remains to be seen, but it really doesn’t matter.
For a couple of hours a bunch of guys worked hard and one side sweated out a win. There were a lot of people admiring how they did it while others took their thrills from watching it unfold.
There’s time to figure out who the national champion will be. In fact, that time is now. I’m glad we got to watch two teams with a claim on that title try one more time to top each other. I’m certainly better for it.
I walked out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the conclusion Michigan State is the better team at this point even though Ohio State probably has more raw talent. The pieces just complement each other better in the green and white uniforms than in the scarlet and gray.
When Ohio State is making shots, it can beat anyone, but I haven’t seen the Buckeyes make shots consistently enough to think it will happen this month. But that’s why they play the games.