We’re heading into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and I’ve reached a crucial point in the Buck Back. I’ve netted 7 bucks so far and have two teams left — third-round selection Xavier and sixth-round selection Washington. They both play tonight, so by the time the sun rises tomorrow I could be out of the Buck Back altogether, before we even reach the weekend. That would be embarrassing.
Washington has a tough test, against West Virginia. The Mountaineers are a balanced, athletic team that beat the Buckeyes earlier this season. Xavier takes on Kansas State, a team that has flown under the radar in the tournament. Both West Virginia and Kansas State are number 2 seeds.
Let’s go, Huskies and Musketeers! Keep me in the hunt!
Edited to add: Well, it happened as I feared, and the Xavier double-overtime loss to K State was particularly brutal. And so this year’s Buck Back comes to a close with me finishing ignominiously $1 underwater.
The Big Ten is feeling pretty good about basketball these days. With three teams — Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue — in the Sweet 16, the Big Ten has more teams still in contention than any other conference. For a moment, at least, the Big Ten has quieted critics who say that the league pales in comparison to the Big East or the ACC, that Big Ten teams play a boring, bruising style that is not attractive to fans or talented players, and that Big Ten teams underperform in big games.
I’m not sure that you can conclude that the Big Ten was the strongest conference this year based on its performance in the NCAA Tournament, any more than you can argue that the league has sucked in the past based on prior tournament disappointments. The NCAA Tournament often boils down to individual team match-ups that don’t allow for sweeping conclusions about entire leagues. Still, it is gratifying for the Big Ten teams to perform well in the spotlight, and particularly meaningful because Michigan State and Purdue overcame significant injuries in winning their games to advance.
The reality is that the Big Ten plays good, solid basketball and features a number of tough, hard-nosed players who don’t quit. The fact that most Big Ten teams score in the 50s and 60s, and not in the 70s and 80s, does not detract from the high level of play and fine coaching. Perhaps, with this NCAA Tournament, basketball fans outside the Midwest are starting to realize that.
Dr. Science came over to watch the game yesterday, and while munching on Hills pizza and other goodies we watched the Ohio State men’s team beat Georgia Tech, 75-66, to advance to the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes were led by Evan Turner, who bounced back from a subpar first-round game to lead the Buckeyes in scoring, Jon Diebler, who repeatedly hit three-pointers in the second half to build the Buckeyes’ lead, and David Lighty, whose fearless drives to the bucket and tough defense helped to keep the Yellow Jackets at bay as the game drew to a close. Dallas Lauderdale was a stalwart force in the middle and William Buford contributed 9 points and 8 rebounds. The win was a true team effort.
The Buckeyes next will play Tennessee on Friday night. In the meantime, they get to enjoy a week of extra basketball, of recognition that this has been a season of great accomplishment for the team and its players, and of intense focus on the next match-up that could prove to be the gateway to even greater achievement. For fans like me, this week is like a surprise present. No one takes advancing to the Sweet 16 for granted, so when it happens you just enjoy basking in the glow of the team’s success and participating in a bonus week of happy basketball chatter with other fans.
Of all the fine basketball teams in the nation, only 16 are still alive and competing for the NCAA championship. When your team is one of those 16 teams, it is a sweet week indeed. Go Buckeyes!