#6 Cincinnati Bearcats vs. #2 Ohio State Buckeyes -7.5
This game is a rivalry that probably should be, but never really was, due largely to Ohio State’s lack of interest in getting the Bearcats on the schedule. Long viewed as “big brother” by Cincinnati and their fans, the chance to knock off the Buckeyes en route to an Elite Eight appearance would be sweeter than many fans could have ever dreamed.
But is it likely to happen?? Ohio State enters tonight as the largest favorite in any of the four games, and position by position certainly appears to have an edge over the Bearcats. But as well know, funny things happen in March. Games swing wildly on momentum, composure, the ability to control tempo, and of course, do shots fall that night or is the iron unkind… Let’s dig into some numbers and trends and get a better read on tonight’s battle of Ohio.
For the favored Buckeyes, the key to their success is the ability to consistently create good shots. Thanks in large part to the floor leadership of Aaron Craft and the efficiency of William Buford and Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes shoot an impressive 48.1% from the floor. That number looks even better when thrown up against Cincinnati’s 42%. Ohio State also holds an impressive rebounding edge, outrebounding their opponents by an average of 7.7 rebounds a game, while Cincinnati is just plus 1.0. Of course, much of that statistic hinges on the ability to make shots. Since most rebounds are defensive rebounds, shooting 6-7% better than your opponent from the floor will swing those statistics pretty dramatically. In truth, I am not sure Ohio State is a better rebounding team than Cincinnati.
The Bearcats strength is their ability to create a sloppy tempo, force turnovers, limit second shots and “ugly up” the game a little bit. That will be difficult to do against a point guard as crafty as Aaron Craft, but if Cincy has any notion of springing the upset, they will have to do just that. The games Ohio State has lost this season have all been to physical, tempo-controlling teams. Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan – all bruised up the Buckeyes and made them grind it out. As we’ve seen against Gonzaga’s Robert Sacre last week, if you can put a big agile body on Sullinger in the post, the need to double-team decreases and you can play their shooters straight-up; something that bodes well for Cincinnati provided Yancy Gates can stay out of foul trouble.
I like Ohio State to advance, but don’t feel comfortable laying seven and a half points. I wouldn’t be stunned if Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright surprisingly outplay Craft, Buford and Thomas and advance – this team is on FIRE the last three weeks. Either way, give me the Cats and the huge 7.5.
Free pick: Cincinnati Bearcats +7.5