Tonight Ohio State and Kentucky face off in Newark, New Jersey for the right to move along into the Elite Eight. Ohio State will hope to avoid the kind of upset that has knocked out Duke and Pitt, and Kentucky will try to beat Ohio State for the first time in an NCAA tournament.
Late starting time aside — the game is projected to tip at 9:45, which probably means after 10 p.m. — this should be a terrific contest. Kentucky is one of the most storied teams in college basketball, with a jaw-dropping tradition that features 51 NCAA tournaments, 13 Final Fours, and seven national championships. The Buckeyes are currently the consensus number one and are looking to build on the tradition that has developed since Coach Thad Matta arrived. Both teams are hot and have come to the NCAA tournament after winning their conference tournament. Both teams feature an exciting mix of freshmen — in the Wildcats’ case, guard Brandon Knight and forward Terrence Jones, the two leading scorers — and upperclassmen. In Matta and Kentucky’s John Calipari, both teams have coaches who have taken different teams deep into the NCAA tournament.
Every game in the NCAA tournament seems to turn into a game of matchups, and this game should be no different. Kentucky fans believe Knight will be the best guard Ohio State has faced this season; Buckeye fans hope that Aaron Craft can display some of his defensive prowess and hound Knight into turnovers and bad shots. Ohio State fans think Jared Sullinger should be able to dominate inside; Wildcats supporters are confident that 6-10 senior Josh Harrelson (known as “Jorts” for some unknown reason) will be able to hold Sullinger in check. Kentucky wonders who will guard the 6-8 Jones, who can both drive and launch from the outside, and Ohio State asks who will be matched against lanky William Buford. Other questions abound. Can David Lighty penetrate and dish? Will Kentucky try to play an up-tempo game or slow it down? Will Jon Diebler be hot from behind the arc? Will early foul trouble set one team back?
Fans of both teams seem to be complaining that this great tilt is happening this early in the tournament. I think it is one of the things that makes the NCAA tournament such a terrific event. Whichever team advances after tonight’s game will feel like it has really accomplished something. I’m hoping that team will be Ohio State.