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All-Ohio Tournament Predictions

W. Ross ClitesYour City Sports-Cleveland

Kent, OHIO -- It is not exactly the representation Ohioans thought their state would earn, but this year’s NCAA Tournament might produce the deepest crop. There is no Dayton, no Cincinnati, no Kent State, no Akron, and no darlings of last year’s Dance -- Cleveland State. Poised to pick up where the Vikings left off are Xavier and Ohio State. The two have equal chances because the bracket is the ultimate handicapper.

The Musketeers are led by Jordan Crawford and his 19.7 points per game. They will gladly float under the radar in the West region. In many ways, they have dodged a bullet or two. The first obstacle--an up-and-down Tubby Smith-coached Minnesota team--could have been much worse. Old Dominion and Washington were floating out there as possibilities. I know the Pac-10 was brutal this year, but a major conference champion of any kind is a tough match-up for a (6) to draw. Same is true of ODU, who is going to give Notre Dame fits.

Likewise, this is not the best Pittsburgh team the field of 65 has produced in recent memory. The other (3) seeds they could have been paired with are Baylor, New Mexico, and Georgetown. The “X” is relatively lucky that Pitt wandered into their pod. The Panthers are overachieving; their youth was not planned to translate into 20-wins this soon. If Xavier locks horns with Pitt in the Second Round, it should be the Musketeers who are favored despite the seeding.

Pittsburgh has been a notorious home-court team during its recent decade of success. The Peterson Events Center is one of the toughest places to play. However, Pitt has won only five true road games all year. I will grant you that one was in Syracuse, but the team is hardly Road Warriors. We will have to see how the “Zoo” travels to Milwaukee. My prediction: Xavier to the Sweet Sixteen.

Jordan Crawford should not be upset to be labeled the second-best college basketball player in Ohio this year. The man he lost that honor to just may end up with a Naismith Trophy. Ohio State’s Evan Turner is a triple-double machine that can carry this Buckeye team in March. Led by his 20.3 PPG, 9.2 RPG, and 5.9 APG the Buckeyes enter the Dance as a scary team: Co-champions of the regular season, Big Ten tournament champions, and winners of 13 of their 14 last games.

The beauty is that Turner might not even have to strap his team on his back. William Buford is a beast in the paint, John Diebler is in range as soon as he crosses half-court, and David Lighty built confidence with a great Big Ten Tourney. Had Turner never injured his back, causing him to miss 6 games, the Buckeyes would have made a compelling arguing to take that last number (1) seed away from Syracuse.

The only thing that is working against Ohio State is the Selection Committee. They were not as fortunate as Xavier. According the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the Midwest region contains seven teams ranked in the Top 25. In contrast, the East region contains only five.

The Midwest region is this tournament’s equivalent to the World Cup’s Group of Death. Ohio State takes the two seed in this region. Thanks to the “S” pattern of bracket placement, the number (1) seed is the top-ranked team in the field--Kansas. Georgetown, who has returned to early-season form at the right time, captured the three seed. Co-ACC champion, Maryland, and their talented senior guard Greivis Vasquez are the four.

The five seed is no slouch, either. Anytime Coach Tom Izzo is in the field, he and his Michigan State Spartans are a tough out. Even though the team is in free fall (injuries to leading scorer Kalin Lucas and the suspension of Chris Allen) Izzo is at his best in March. It seems the more experts count the Spartans out, the deeper they go in the Dance. Regardless of the name on the front of the jersey, no one should ever rule out the members of the previous year’s National Championship Game. Well, that is unless they fail to make the tournament in the following year--ahem, North Carolina.

The six seed, Tennessee, is the only team in college basketball history to knock off the number one ranked team (Kansas) and the number two ranked team (Kentucky) in the same regular-season. And they did it despite Coach Bruce Pearl dismissing four key players due to off-the-court issues. That is a far cry from Xavier’s (6) seed resume.

Even the seven seed in this region could make a deep run. Oklahoma State’s James Anderson is averaging 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. He is the best guard you have never heard of.

Moving along to the (8) vs. (9) match-up; it will showcase a Northern Iowa team that is seeded incorrectly. Ranked in the Coaches Poll, the Panthers have only four losses on the year. And the ho-hum (10) seed is a team that played in the ACC Championship Game. Though Georgia Tech did not have a stellar season, head coach Paul Hewitt willed his team to finish strong. He sits firmly on the hot seat with his A.D. and fan base, so his team might make some noise. There is nothing more dangerous than a man coaching for his job. 

Way to spread out that talent evenly, Committee. My prediction: Ohio State is that good; Final Four good. Escaping this Group of Death will make them battle-tested. This could be the year that they cut down the most important nets.

Not to be forgotten from the Buckeye Basketball projections is the Ohio Bobcats. They, too, fall in the dreaded Midwest region. The Buckeyes would be elated if OU lays on the tracks in front of the impending Georgetown train. It would shock the nation to trip the Hoyas up, but the Bobcats have nothing to lose.

They have no business being in the Dance. They were 7-9 in a down year for the Mid American Conference; "good" enough for the (9) seed in their conference tournament. They had to take a (8) seed Ball State to overtime in the MAC first round. This dream run could have ended on a court in Muncie, Indiana -- a far cry from any pageantry of the Big Dance. But that win started an unprecedented run over Kent State, Miami (OH), and Akron.  

Now sitting at 26-15 and the Midwest Region's (14) seed, the Bobcats are playing out of their collective minds. History has shown that teams that play with this level of house money tend to shock the world. If Georgetown plays like it did in mid-February -- in which the Hoyas lost to a lousy Rutgers team -- the outcome could be a toss-up.

In that ugly loss to the Scarlet Knights, Georgetown did shoot 50% from the field but could not play any defense against Rutger’s Jonathan Mitchell. After seeing his recent performance live in Cleveland, there is no doubt that Ohio’s Armon Bassett could easily go off for 24 points like Mitchell did that evening. My prediction: the Bobcats season does finally come to a close, much deeper into the calendar than they thought it would two weeks ago.

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