Two weeks ago, there were 347 teams playing NCAA Men’s Division I basketball. Today, there are 16. Four of them are from Ohio. In this year’s Sweet 16 match-ups Xavier faces Baylor, which is no small task for any team, and the Musketeers will have their hands full. The Ohio University Bobcats face the daunting task of taking on the North Carolina Tar Heels. And finally, the Bearcats of Cincinnati face off with THE Ohio State University.
There is more history to this match-up than one might think. Technically, the last time the two teams played each other was in 2006 in Indianapolis. But anyone who gives a damn about either program will tell you that that game was a manufactured simile of an Ohio State vs. Cincinnati game. It wasn’t even played in Ohio!
The last REAL meeting between the two came in the 1962 National Championship game, the second in a row that the two teams played for. Cincinnati won both of those, but the Buckeyes beat Cal to win the one before that. The Bearcats also went to the ’63 title game and lost to Loyola of Chicago. Up until the Buckeyes’ run in 2007, the only Ohio team to even make it to the title game since were the Dayton Flyers in 1967, who lost to John Wooden’s UCLA team, who were simply unstoppable (they won 10 titles in 12 years, including 7 consecutive from 1967-73).
Though most won’t remember these games, or even this rivalry (Thad Matta or Mick Cronin weren’t even born yet!), it seems that it hasn’t died yet. “It still kind of has bad blood between the two schools,” Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger said. “So this one is going to be remembered for whoever goes to the Elite 8, and it’s going to be a battle of Ohio.”
There’s more at stake here than bragging rights though, and while the two schools may be rekindling an old rivalry, that mentality has taken a back seat, as the winner advances to the Regional Finals and seeks another championship. “I think by us playing here in the Sweet 16, it’s not about Cincinnati versus Ohio State. It’s about advancing, trying to get to the Elite 8,” said Cincinnati native and Bearcats forward Yancy Gates. “Really we’re just focused on trying to get to New Orleans like everybody else here. It’s not about whether we’re playing Ohio State or Florida State; it’s about the task at hand.”
So let’s look at the task at hand. Cincinnati’s 4-guard lineup allows them to be very fast, and their quick hands makes them a handfull on defense. But it also makes them small, and that is a problem when you’re faced with two guys like the 6’9″ Jared Sullinger and 6’7″ Deshaun Thomas with only one big man inside. Thomas will be the key factor in this game for the Buckeyes. He’s big, strong, fast, and can post up and score inside or hit the three. A literal nightmare of a matchup for this Cincinnati defense. But if they can find a way to keep him contained and limit his numbers, they should have a good shot at winning this game.
This means that Yancy Gates, the only forward in Cincinnati’s starting lineup, will have to take on the monumental task of keeping both Thomas and Sullinger off the boards and keeping them both from scoring inside the paint. Not a small task, as Thomas leads all NCAA scorers with 30 points in the paint this tournament, and Sullinger averages 19.1 points and 9.1 boards per game. Thomas averages 15.9 points and 5.3 rebounds, but has surpassed both numbers in each of the Buckeyes’ tournament games this year. When asked about this Gates said, “I’ve been guarding a lot of good big men this season. They all do a lot of different things. I think it’ll just be another challenge, trying to get to New Orleans.’’ Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick also said that defending Thomas “will be a team effort,” adding, “But I think we’ll be ok with him.”
There are two keys to this game for the Bearcats, and one is going to be whether their speedy defense will be able to disrupt OSU point guard Aaron Craft as well as Thomas. Cronin, when asked about the Sophomore guard, “Aaron Craft is not a good player. He’s a great player. He’s a better offensive player than I think opponents realize”
Kilpatrick will also need to have a good game offensively. He is a great perimeter shooter, and has ability to light it up if not kept in check. This task will likely fall to Aaron Craft, one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. Craft does give up two inches and about 30 pounds to Kilpatrick though, so it should be an interesting match-up to watch.
The last thing to watch in this game is going to be turnovers. Both teams are very crafty (see what I did there?) on defense and cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses. The team that causes the most turnovers and/or has the most points off turnovers should be the one to win this game.
My prediction? Buckeyes by 7. It will be a close game, but I think Thomas will prove to be too much for the Bearcats.