Hello, Ohio. Cradle of college basketball.
Ohio and Cincinnati pulled a pair of upsets on Sunday to join Ohio State and Xavier in a Sweet 16 loaded with teams from the Buckeye State. It’s the first time in NCAA tournament history that four teams from one state have advanced to the second weekend.
The 13th-seeded Bobcats surged past South Florida to continue their best tournament run since 1964. They are the lowest-seeded team left in the field and will try to knock off top-seeded North Carolina in a Midwest region semifinal on Friday in St. Louis.
Cincinnati outlasted Florida State in a late-night slug-fest to set up an East region semifinal against Ohio State. Xavier ended Lehigh’s brief Cinderella run and will take on No. 3 seed Baylor in the South.
But the most intriguing aspect of all of this may be the flat out hatred these schools have for one another. The Bobcats can’t stand the pompous nature of “THE Ohio State University” which came to a head in 1997 when Ohio State sued Ohio University for part ownership of the term “Ohio.” And if you needed a refresher on the mutual dislike between crosstown rivals Cincinnati and Xavier, the Bearcats and Musketeers provided plenty in their early-season on-court brawl.
The state is guaranteed at least one team in the weekend’s region finals, but here’s a quick look at the matchups for the Ohio foursome.
(6) Cincinnati vs. (2) Ohio State — Thursday in Boston
At times during Cincinnati’s round-of-32 win over Florida State, the play on the court resembled a football game more than basketball. But that’s precisely the way the rough and tumble Bearcats like it. Their physical play on both ends wore down Syracuse in a Big East tournament upset and their rugged style took its toll on Texas and the Seminoles in the team’s first two tournament wins. It all starts with 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior center Yancy Gates who will be a load for the Buckeyes to handle in the paint. But Jared Sullinger absolutely took over in the second half of Ohio State’s round-of-32 win over Gonzaga, and establishing him early will be the focus for the Buckeyes as they try to get back to a region final for the first time since 2007. There’s history here, too. The Bearcats and Buckeyes met twice for the National Championship in 1961 and 1962 with Cincinnati winning both.
(3) Baylor vs. (10) Xavier — Friday in Atlanta
Like Cincinnati, the Musketeers are not afraid to get physical, and it was the hard-nosed effort of senior center Kenny Frease that helped turn things around for Xavier against Lehigh. Frease’s matchup with talented Baylor sophomore Perry Jones III will be one to watch, but guard play will likely decide this contest between two perimeter-oriented teams. Senior guard Tu Holloway has hit six three-pointers combined in Xavier’s first two games while averaging 23 points per game. Meantime, Baylor’s Brady Heslip exploded for nine three-pointers to lead the Bears over Colorado and back into the Sweet 16 for a second straight year. If the shots are falling again on Friday, this should be one of the weekend’s most exciting games.
(1) North Carolina vs. (13) Ohio — Friday in St. Louis
With No. 15 seeds Lehigh and Norfolk State losing on Sunday, the Bobcats inherit the ‘Cinderella’ moniker as they gear up for their toughest test yet. But what might have seemed an impossible matchup against one of the favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans became a little less daunting with the news that North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall broke his wrist during the Tar Heels’ win over Creighton. Marshall had surgery Monday morning and his status remains unknown for Friday’s game. With Marshall, the Tar Heels can beat anyone in the nation. Without him, they could be the most vulnerable No. 1 seed in the field. Guards D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt lead the Bobcats in scoring and should be able to exploit North Carolina’s shaky perimeter defense with penetration and three-point shooting. If the Bobcats can force the Tar Heels into a half court set with Marshall out, they could have a chance to pull the upset.
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