Cincinnati (26-10) vs. Ohio State (29-7)
Thursday, March 22, 9:45 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Andy Sclight, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: TD Garden (18,624) -- Boston, Massachusetts. Television: CBS. NCAA Tournament Record: Cincinnati 43-24, Ohio State 43-22. Series Record: Ohio State leads, 5-4.
GAME NOTES: Ohio State aims for a bit of redemption in making a return trip to the regional semifinals as the second-seeded Buckeyes square off with the sixth-seeded Bearcats of Cincinnati at TD Garden in Boston for a spot in the East Regional final.
Ohio State held off a late comeback by a gritty No. 7 seed Gonzaga Saturday for a 73-66 victory to land in the Sweet 16 for a third consecutive year. The Buckeyes held a comfortable 10-point lead late in the second half but the Bulldogs embarked on a spirited surge to eventually knot the score at 61-all with a little more than four minutes remaining. OSU's defense buckled down in the waning moments though, while sophomore Jared Sullinger drained a pair of key baskets to push the advantage back out to five. The Buckeyes held the Zags to 32.0 percent shooting in the second half after posting a slim two-point lead at the half. Ohio State shot 47.2 percent from the floor overall with Sullinger providing 18 points. Fellow sophomore Deshaun Thomas also totaled 18 points with seven rebounds while Aaron Craft hit on 7-of-9 field goals for 17 points and handed out 10 assists. Ohio State (29-7) took care of business in its opening-round game last week, dispatching the No. 15 seed Loyola-Maryland by way of a 78-59 victory. OSU's overall tourney ledger now stands at 43-22 in making its 24th appearance at the Big Dance. The Buckeyes have made nine trips to the Final Four and reached the NCAA Final four times, winning their lone national championship in 1960. The program most recently played for the title in 2007, losing out to Florida. Ohio State is seeking to avoid a similar fate to that of last year's top-seeded East Region team which lost to Kentucky in the regional semifinals.
Cincinnati gutted out an ugly 62-56 win over No. 3 seed Florida State Sunday, advancing to the program's first regional semifinal since 2001. Neither team could get on track offensively, with both clubs shooting an identical 38.0 percent from the field. In the end, it came down to a handful of clutch plays late as sophomore Sean Kilpatrick buried back-to-back three-pointers coming down the stretch and senior Dion Dixon came up with a steal and dunk to give UC the lead for good with 1:30 left. From there, the Bearcats went 8-for-8 at the foul line to wrap things up. Kilpatrick led the effort with 18 points, Dixon netted 15 and senior Yancy Gates had 10 points. Junior JaQuon Parker also stepped up with a game-high 11 rebounds, nine points and four assists. Cincinnati (26-10) withstood a spirited comeback to survive 11th-seeded Texas last week, pulling out a 65-59 victory to reach 25 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2004-05. This is the Bearcats' 26th overall appearance at the Big Dance and 16th in the past 21 years, carrying a 43-24 ledger into Thursday's heavyweight matchup. The program has found a wealth of success in past NCAA tournaments, winning back-to-back national titles in 1961 and '62. The Bearcats have made it to the Final Four on four different occasions, their last in 1992, with eight Elite Eight appearances. UC was knocked out in the third round of last year's tournament by UConn as a six- seed.
These two teams have a bit of history together at the NCAA Tournament with the Bearcats having defeated Ohio State both times to earn their NCAA titles in 1961 and 1962. Overall, Ohio State leads the series by a 5-4 count, most recently taking a 72-50 victory at the 2006 Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis.
The Bearcats have an efficient offense with four double-figure scorers but maintain one of the Big East's better scoring margins at plus-7.2 thanks in large part to their defense. Cincinnati holds teams to 61.0 ppg to rank in the top-35 nationally and a mere 41.0 percent shooting from the field. The team averages 68.2 ppg and shoots an underwhelming 42.0 percent overall, but also has one of the Big East's better three-point shooting percentages at 33.9 percent. A big reason for that success comes from Kilpatrick, who leads the conference with 89 triples on 37.6 percent shooting and tops the Bearcat roster with 14.3 ppg. Dixon follows with a solid 13.1 ppg while Gates provides 12.4 ppg and a team-high 9.1 rebounds -- good for fourth in the Big East. Junior Cashmere Wright gives UC a legitimate fourth double-digit scoring option at 10.7 ppg and leads the team with his 4.6 assists per game. Wright is also second to Kilpatrick on the squad with 59 threes on 36.0 percent shooting. Dixon also drops a decent number of three-pointers with 46 but shoots a dismal 26.3 percent from beyond. Parker chips in 9.3 ppg and 5.6 boards with Kilpatrick adding 4.7 rpg and 2.1 assists to the mix. Overall, Cincinnati is pretty even with the opposition when it comes to winning the boards, holding a slim 36.2-to-35.8 edge.
The Buckeyes certainly made their presence felt inside the Big Ten Conference this year, and stamped their authority with the nation's second-ranked scoring margin at plus-15.6 behind only the tourney's top overall seed Kentucky. Ohio State stands second in the conference in both scoring with 74.8 points per game and defense (59.2 ppg) -- a mark that also ranks in the top-15 nationally. The Buckeyes hold the nation's 17th-ranked shooting percentage at 48.2 percent and force a stingy 40.5 shooting percentage from opponents -- good for third in the conference. OSU also has the league's second-best rebounding margin at plus-7.7 (37.1-29.5) behind only Michigan State, but also rank dead last in the conference with a mere 179 three-pointers. Sullinger is at the heart of the Buckeyes' success, averaging 17.4 ppg, 9.1 rebounds and connecting on 53.0 percent of his field goals. Sullinger's scoring and rebounding totals place him third and second, respectively, in the Big Ten while Thomas and senior William Buford give the club three of the league's top-12 scorers. Thomas contributes in a number of ways, netting 15.9 ppg on 53.2 percent shooting with 5.3 rpg and 46 three-pointers on 35.1 percent shooting. Buford puts up 14.7 ppg and leads the team with 57 triples on 35.4 percent shooting. Buford also kicks in 4.8 boards and 2.8 assists while the sophomore Craft ranks third in the conference with his 4.7 assists per game and adds 8.8 ppg to the mix on a crisp 51.7 percent shooting. Craft also tops the Big Ten with 2.4 steals per contest, having set the single-season school record with his 88th theft in the win over Gonzaga.
This matchup figures to be a bruiser with a pair of physical, defensive-minded teams taking the court. However, the key factor will lie in which is best equipped to overcome the other's aggressive defending. Ohio State has that edge by almost 7.0 ppg and should see its way through to the regional final.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 70, Cincinnati 62
03/22 10:36:40 ET