Ah, we have arrived at March Madness. It is my favorite time of year. Now the country’s eyes are focused on a sport I follow intently all year long. I have a lot of friends that are of the “call me in March” group who love to parachute in for the tournament, but that is all right with me. Come one, come all, to the best event in all of sports.
Locally, we have lots to look forward to and to watch, starting as early as Tuesday night:
Ohio State – The Buckeyes, coming off a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten finals, look to have regained some of their mojo over the past three weeks. The selection committee placed them as the #2 seed in the East Region, where Syracuse sits on top. Thursday in Pittsburgh, OSU will face 15th seeded Loyola (MD), winners of the MAAC Tournament. The thing they are best known for is their media darling coach Jimmy Patsos, who you will hear about 100 times this week as the “former bartender turned coach.” He was one of Gary Williams’s top assistants at Maryland for years before finally getting the gig at Loyola eight years ago.
That first round matchup shouldn’t be a problem for Thad Matta’s club, but the next opponent could cause some problems. In a strange move, the committee put #7 Gonzaga vs #10 West Virginia in the pod. Morgantown, West Virginia is just 75 miles from Pittsburgh and the Mountaineer fans will no doubt fill the Consol Energy Center both Thursday and Saturday should they win. Its not like Gonzaga will be bringing thousands with them from Spokane, Washington. If WVU beats the Zags, Ohio State could have a borderline road game on their hands. Not a good move by the committee.
With that said, this is not one of Bob Huggins’s better teams at West Virginia and they could very easily lose to Gonzaga and make this point entirely moot. These few days of rest should benefit Ohio State, Jared Sullinger in particular. Playing three games in three days with an extremely short bench is a lot of work. It should be interesting to see how Matta juggles the minutes to keep his kids fresh in that opener against Loyola.
Ohio – Boy is Brady Hoke going to be confused.
The Bobcats won the MAC tournament championship in a highly entertaining 64-63 tilt with Akron. With the automatic bid, they head to the NCAA Tournament where they were matched up with the Michigan Wolverines. This is a 4/13 matchup in the Midwest Region. The game will be played Friday in Nashville.
What makes this game interesting is the side story. If you recall, OU head coach John Groce, a former Ohio State assistant, came out and said he and the University take great offense to the fact that Michigan football coach Brady Hoke continues to only refer OSU as “Ohio.” In an ironic twist, the Maise and Blue will be facing off with “The Real Ohio” and their tough PG D.J. Cooper. The Junior was a starter on the OU team two years ago who knocked off Georgetown in the first round, scoring 23 points on the way. He now gets another shot to carry this team into the NCAAs.
Groce is a rising star in the coaching profession and an upset or two will only raise his profile. However, it won’t be an easy task. John Beilein’s Michigan club plays a style that teams outside of the Big Ten are not used to seeing. They are a mix of experience (Zack Novak and Stu Douglass) and quality youth (Tim Hardaway jr. and Trey Burke) that loves to shoot the three-ball and incorporates a 1-3-1 half court trap defense at times.
CSU & Akron – While both programs were disappointed by how their seasons ended the Cleveland State Vikings and Akron Zips will continue playing after all. Both were invited to play in the NIT and accepted the invitations.
The Vikings, who lost in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament to the eventual champion Detroit, were given a six seed and will be sent out West to play at Stanford late Tuesday night. The Cardinal finished seventh in the Pac-12 conference, but won 21 games. Their only common opponent was Butler, whom Stanford lost to at home 71-66. CSU split with the Bulldogs.
You have to be happy for CSU’s four seniors D’Aundray Brown, Jeremy Montgomery, Tre Harmon, and Aaron Pogue. They four were a part of so much success during their careers and they get another opportunity to continue. The NIT will also be a great experience for the next generation of CSU’s core – Anton Grady, Charles Lee, and company.
The Zips were a part of that heartbreaking loss to OU Saturday night, but like CSU, they have a chance at redemption. Their NIT game will precede the Vikings/Cardinal tilt on ESPN2 Tuesday night. Their opponent will be the Big Ten’s requisite bridesmaid, Northwestern.
Its Tournament time people. Get ready to call in sick and join me for non-stop hoops action all week long.