NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Predictions: 2. Ohio State vs. 6. Cincinnati

By: Kels Dayton

Alright, so your bracket is busted. So is everyone else’s. Now it’s time to put away the tissues, wipe your nose on your old bracket and start over. Get back in the game with a Sweet-16 pool, because from here on out the tournament is much more predictable. You can still win something on this thing—even though it won’t feel as glorious as it would have had you picked Lehigh to knock out Duke. So, sit back, relax, and read up on the tournament from here on out. Because everybody deserves a second chance–except Duke. They’re out.


 Ohio State (29-7, Big Ten)

Deshaun Thomas has really emerged as a big-time scoring threat for the Buckeyes this season. (Jim Davidson/The

HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Buckeyes outmuscled MAAC champion Loyola (MD) then outlasted a pesky Gonzaga club to reach the Sweet 16. Ohio State has gotten terrific play from sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas, who scored 18 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in the third-round win over the Zags.

BURNING QUESTION: Can sophomores Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas keep putting up great offensive numbers? Craft, who averaged just 8.6 points per game this season, put up a surprising 17-point performance against Gonzaga in the third round. Thomas averaged 17 points per game, but scored a career-high 31 as he did against Loyola (MD) in the round of 64. If these guys continue to play like that, the Buckeyes will be nearly impossible to beat in Boston.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: The Bucks are going to have to shoot the ball well if they want to get out of this region. Ohio State isn’t as explosive on offense as Syracuse, so they’re going to need senior guard William Buford (14.7 ppg, 42% FG, 35% 3-pt FG) to knock down shots if they meet the Orange in the Regional Final. The Bucks must also their size and muscle advantage inside, as they are the biggest team in the region.

X-FACTOR: Deshaun Thomas. Most people don’t know how good this guy is, but he’s the key to what Ohio State does. For all the talk about Sullinger, Thomas has been absolutely incredible in the NCAAs, and is the main reason why the Bucks advanced to the Sweet 16. You can bet Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin is going to key on him on Thursday.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Ohio State proves to be too tough for Cincinnati, with too many offensive weapons andtoo much punch in the paint. The Bucks then meet Wisconsin in the Elite Eight and overpower the Badgers en route to a Final Four. If the Buckeyes play Syracuse, the best-case scenario would be to slow the pace of the game, make a bunch of threes against the ‘Cuse zone, and exploit the lack of Fab Melo inside.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Cincinnati proves to be too quick and tough to defend, and Cashmere Wright goes off for 25 points. Yancy Gates neutralizes Sullinger inside, and the Bearcats walk away with an upset win in the Sweet 16.

CHANCE TO WIN THE REGION: 37%. The Buckeyes have become the favorites to get to the Final Four, mostly because Syracuse is at a disadvantage without Fab Melo inside. Ohio State has a ton of offensive firepower and a couple of big-time players down low, and that is a recipe for success in the NCAA Tournament. Bet on the Buckeyes to cut down the nets in Boston.


 Cincinnati (26-10, Big East)

Cincinnati will need plenty of production from guard Cashmere Wright if they want to advance to the Elite Eight in Boston. (Donn Jones/AP)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Cincinnati put the clamps down on 11-seed Texas in Round 1, holding the Longhorns to 35 percent shooting on their way to a 65-59 win. The Bearcats held Texas to just two points over the first 11 minutes of play, and allowed the Longhorns to shoot just 16 percent, including a 1-for-14 start in the first half. (Texas trailed 31-17 at the break). Cincinnati then squeezed past 3rd-seeded Florida State, 62-56, in a great third-round matchup. The Bearcats held the ACC champion Seminoles to 38 percent shooting from the floor.

BURNING QUESTION: Can Cincinnati compete with the big boys? The Bearcats haven’t been on this stage in quite some time– since Bob Huggins was roaming the sidelines, and it remains to be seen whether or not Cincinnati can win the big-time games it used to. This is the next step in the program’s revitalization. The Bearcats have accomplished quite a bit already, winning 26 games and advancing to the Big East championship game and now the Sweet 16, but beating Ohio State and moving one step away from the Final Four would prove that this program has staying power.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Defense, defense, defense. Much like Wisconsin, the Bearcats rely on an airtight, in-your-shorts defense that wears opponents out over 40 minutes. If the Bearcats want to upset Ohio State, they are going to have to defend William Buford and Aaron Craft on the perimeter, and lock up Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas inside. It’s not going to be easy, but Cincinnati has proven it can do it–particularly in their Big East semifinal win over Syracuse.

X-FACTOR:  Dion DixonThe 6-3 senior from Chicago averaged 13.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists this season and came up huge down the stretch against Florida State. Dixon, along with Yancy Gates, are the only two seniors on the Bearcats’ roster, and both are the heart and soul of this team. If Dixon can come up with a great game like he did against Florida State (15 points, 5 assists), the Bearcats have a real chance of advancing.

Dion Dixon and the Bearcats play lock-down D. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The Bearcats pressure the heck out of the ball and force turnovers against the Buckeyes. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright are on fire, and Cincinnati survives a late storm from Ohio State to escape the Sweet 16 with a victory. Cincinnati then benefits from a Wisconsin upset over Syracuse, and outplays the Badgers in the regional final.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Cincinnati struggles to score against Ohio State’s defense, and Sullinger and Thomas render Yancy Gates completely ineffective inside. The Bearcats can’t hit a shot from the outside, and Cincinnati bows out in the Round of 16.

CHANCE TO WIN THE REGION: 10%. A lot of things would have to break the Bearcats’ way for them to reach the Final Four. But this is a good Cincinnati team–one that doesn’t receive enough credit from analysts  around the country. It would be a shock to see Cincinnati in New Orleans, but nothing compared to the shock value VCU put forth last season when the Rams were among the final four teams standing in April.


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