This is one of the most anticipated games in UC Bearcats basketball history. You probably already know by now that this will be the 50th anniversary of the 1962 national championship game in which Cincinnati beat Ohio State to claim their second-straight national title. Since then questions have emerged as to why the two teams don’t play more. Rumors ran amok but most of them centered around the idea that the Buckeyes refused to play the Bearcats. Those rumors seemed even closer to the truth in 2006 when the #4 ranked Buckeyes whitewashed Cincy 72 – 50. It was interesting that the first time OSU agreed to play UC was one year after the Bearcats ‘Death Penalized’ their program. How convenient. Even Mick Cronin claimed that it is in fact the team in Columbus that is turning down games.
Well now the waiting is over. While this game doesn’t necessarily mean an annual matchup will be in the books for the future, it is a chance to vent some of that frustration built up by the UC fanbase over the years. Regardless of the outcome this will be an incredible game that I for one cannot wait to watch.
The 7th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes are near the top of the Big Ten and the nation in most statistical categories. Their 74.8 points per game ranks 2nd in the conference and 34th nationally, their 37.1 rebounds per game is also 2nd in the Big Ten and 45th in the country, and have a solid 1.26 assist/turnover ratio. On defense their equally as good only allowing 59.2 points per game (14th nationally) and force almost 15 turnovers per game. No wonder why they are the seventh best team in the country. If there is one chink in the armor it is Ohio State’s poor three point shooting and lack of bench production. To the first point, the Buckeyes shoot just 32.9% from beyond the arc (236th in the country). It’s probably a moot point since Thad Matta runs through power forward Jared Sullinger but still, that’s something!
To the second point, only 22% of Ohio State’s points are scored by bench players so their reliance on the starting five of Sullinger, Craft, Thomas, Buford, and Smith Jr. exposes them to problems if one of them got into foul-trouble or were injured. Furthermore, Ohio State is the 4th most foul-prone team in the Big Ten which is unusual considering the Buckeyes are typically winning in their games. In most situations, teams pile up fouls while they are losing because, well, that’s basketball strategy – Risking giving up 2 points with the possibility of getting 3 when they get the ball back. Why Ohio State averages 16.2 fouls per game is beyond me.
Players to Watch
- Yancy Gates vs. Jared Sullinger (#0): Uhh.. duh! This is going to be an epic battle of 6’9″ 260 lbs power forwards that Zeus and Hades would stop whatever they were doing to watch. Both have been improving their NBA draft stock throughout the season, both lead their respective teams in rebounding, and both have been straight owning the paint in the NCAA tournament. Sullinger has the edge stats wise but is a benefactor of an offensive style that goes exclusively through him. Conversely, Gates plays in a system where three-pointers are emphasized and bigs are used for rebounding and quick putbacks.
- Cashmere Wright vs. Aaron Craft (#4): These two point guards are the field generals of their team and the offenses will flow as well as these players lead them. But they also do quite a bit without the ball in their hands like, for example, getting the ball in their hands by stealing it from other players. Craft leads the Big Ten with an astonishing 4.6 steals per game and Cash is 4th in the Big East with about 2 per game. But neither player turns the ball over much either (Craft – 2.1 TOPG, Cash – 2.2). Something will have to give in this game as these two will be going head-to-head on Thursday night.
- DeShawn Thomas (#1): He seems to compliment Sullinger well averaging a hair under 16 points per game and collecting a solid amount of rebounds himself. Thomas has simply lit up the scoreboard this season notching 30 against South Carolina earlier in the year and 31 against Loyola (MD) in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. If the Bearcats key in on Sullinger too much, Thomas can easily burn them. And despite tallying the third most minutes for the Buckeyes he only averages 1.6 fouls per game. In all likelihood trying to get him to foul out is not an option and Cincinnati, or more specifically Justin Jackson, will have to step it up against him.
- Dion Dixon: The senior point guard had a line against Florida State that only he could produce; 5 – 14 shooting for 15 pts, 1 – 4 from three, and perfect from the stripe. The problem in that game, and what really has been plaguing him the past couple of months, is that he’s been trying to do too much on offense. Somehow Mick needs to get it into Dion’s head that he shouldn’t be out there to run the offense (that’s Cash’s job) but instead play great defense and get hard fouls inside if needed, both of which he is incredible at. Anything more just hurts the team. Play within yourself, son.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
Phew! Thursday night is going to be a good one. Fans of both sides are probably more excited than the coaches and players themselves (aren’t they always, though?). Storylines abound in this game from OSU-UC not meeting up very often to Gates vs. Sullinger. Even the casual fan can appreciate both of those. The Buckeyes have a leg-up on the Bearcats in most statistical categories and in many ways this is a David vs. Goliath match up. But Cincinnati is perhaps the only team in the country that is adept at knocking off higher ranked opponents. They’ve done so 8 times this year so it’s apparent the pedigree and prestige of the opponent doesn’t bother this team. Therefore, despite the numbers being against them, I have to pick the hometown ‘Cats to win tomorrow night especially considering I have yet to pick against them in this tournament and look how far they’ve gotten! UC wins. It’ll be close but they’ll pull it off:
Ohio State: 61