Last night, the NCAA Tournament Committee announced the brackets for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. I know, crazy how that works. Some of the highlights included: Louisville claiming the overall #1 seed, Gonzaga claiming a #1 seed for the first time in school history, and the prevalence of mid-majors made possible thanks to a lackluster year from many of the power conferences. One team not upset with its seeding… the Buckeyes, who claimed the #2 seed out West.
The seeding of the Buckeyes as the #2 seed in the West no doubt came to be thanks largely in part to their winning of the Big Ten conference tournament only hours earlier. The win over Winsconsin, which can only be described as a brutally ugly slugfest, capped off a somewhat improbable run and sees the Buckeyes peeking at the absolute best time. Heading into the tourney on Thursday, they look like one of the best teams in the country poised to make a deep run. That’s something you definitely wouldn’t have thought earlier this season and only became a legit possibility thanks to their recent play.
Coming off of a season in which the Buckeyes made it to the Final Four and subsequently lost their best player to the draft (Jared Sullinger), the Buckeyes were left for dead by many. Indiana and Michigan were both stacked, Michigan State and Wisconsin were sure to be as tough as ever, and the rest of the Big Ten was sure to be improved. But, as it would turn out, Deshaun Thomas emerged as a legitimate elite level scorer and Aaron Craft took his leadership and stifling defense to a whole other level. As the year played out, the role players fell into place, contributing when needed and picking up the slack on off nights from one of the big two.
In the end, the Buckeyes emerged from the carnage of the nation’s toughest basketball conference as one of the elite teams in the country and were rightfully rewarded with a #2 seed and a clear path to the Final Four. You read that right. With the bracket set up the way it is, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Buckeyes can’t make it all the way to Atlanta.
For starters, the Buckeyes landed in the region with arguably the weakest of the #1 seeds. Many believe Gonzaga is a fraud because of their schedule (I, for one, do not) and if that’s the case, then the Buckeyes should have no problem vanquishing them IF they meet in the West regional final. And regardless of your opinion, you have to admit that Kansas, Louisville, and Indiana are much more formidable foes than the Zags.
Second, just looking at the teams in their field, nobody stands out as a possible upset special. The West region contains a Wisconsin team they’ve already beaten, an Arizona team that comes into the tourney ice cold, and a Notre Dame team that repeatedly underwhelms year after year. The one lone threat may be the third seeded New Mexico Lobos, but they haven’t made it to the Sweet 16 since the 70’s so even they’re not a lock. There is honestly no reason to believe why the West region shouldn’t see an Ohio State versus Gonzaga final.
The final reason why I like the Buckeyes to make a deep run is because of their veteran leadership. In a sport consistently dominated by freshman, the Buckeyes can turn to two juniors in Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas who have been there before. They know exactly what it will take to get this team to Atlanta. They won’t be intimidated by the bright lights and national tv audiences. They realize what is at stake and can be that calming presence in the locker room and in the huddle. That’s huge. Every year we see mid-majors make Cinderella runs thanks to chemistry and leadership rather than talent. The Buckeyes have all of the above. Why then shouldn’t they be expected to make a run to the Final Four?
Will it happen? Who knows? The NCAA Tournament is such an unpredictable beast that there is no way to possibly know what will happen. All we can really do is sit back and enjoy the ride one game at a time. Hopefully, that ride contains another Buckeye run to the Final Four.