Tomorrow night the Buckeyes play an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal game against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. The round of games is called the Sweet Sixteen, but recently it has had a decidedly sour taste for Ohio State.
This is the third year in a row the Buckeyes have made it this far — and the last two years they went no farther. In 2010 they lost a heart-breaker to Tennessee, 76-73; last year they arguably had the best team around and fell in a stomach-churning loss to Kentucky, 62-60. The close scores made the losses more agonizing, and Buckeyes fans don’t want to endure another.
Ohio State and Cincinnati are in the same state but don’t play each other often. Nevertheless, they have a rich basketball history. Cincinnati beat the Buckeyes in two NCAA championship games 50 years ago, during the Jerry Lucas era. Some of my friends would dearly like to get belated payback this year.
It’s safe to say that the participants in this year’s game won’t be thinking much about Lucas and the Buckeyes of the early ’60s. They’ll be focused on stopping a UC team that is tough, scrappy, and balanced, with four players who average in double figures. The team bounced back after a humiliating loss to crosstown rival Xavier — in a game that ended in an awful bench-clearing brawl — to play well in their conference and advance to the Big East title game. UC’s experience in the Big East means they won’t be intimidated by the setting or the opponent.
As for the Buckeyes, they can’t afford another start like they had against Gonzaga, which dominated the boards early and got Jared Sullinger into foul trouble. They’ll need to rebound better and will be looking for Lenzelle Smith to crash the glass and bring hustle on defense. They’ll want to get the terrific contributions from Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft that they got against Gonzaga. Finally, they’ll need big games from Sullinger and, especially, William Buford, who will be looking to exorcise some demons from last year’s loss to Kentucky.
The game tips tomorrow night at (ugh!) 9:45 p.m. Already, the insides of the stalwart members of Buckeye Nation are churning.