NCAA Tournament Preview: Four Ohio Schools In Regional Semifinals
All four top regional seeds -- Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse and Michigan State--- remain alive as the 2012 NCAA tournament begins the regional semifinal round on Thursday. An NCAA record four schools from Ohio have advanced to the round of 16. Here's a preview of the next round of NCAA tournament games:
Thursday, March 22
All times ET; seedings in parentheses.
TD Garden, Boston
(1) Syracuse vs. (4) Wisconsin — 7:15 PM
Guards Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters have led top-seeded Syracuse (33-2) in victories over UNC-Asheville and Kansas State in the Orange's first two NCAA tournament games. Coach Jim Boeheim's team will face a challenge as Wisconsin (26-9) plays a smothering defense, which the Badgers used to shut down Vanderbilt's exceptional shooters in the third round. Versatile guard Jordan Taylor leads the offensive attack for Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.
(2) Ohio State vs. (6) Cincinnati — 9:45 PM
The state of Ohio has four teams in the round of 16, and at least one of those schools will advance thanks to this matchup. Ohio State (29-7) has handily beaten Loyola (Md.) and Gonzaga thus far. Sophomore stars Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas lead a Buckeyes team that is deep and defensive-minded. Coming from the Big East, Cincinnati (26-10) knows how to be tough with opponents. Forward Yancy Gates must step up for the Bearcats if they are to make the regional final on Saturday.
US Airways Center, Phoenix
(1) Michigan State vs. (4) Louisville — 7:47 PM
Michigan State's Draymond Green is one of the best players still playing in the 2012 NCAA tournament. Green has recorded a triple-double and double-double in the Spartans' (29-7) first two tourney wins. To beat MSU, Louisville (28-9) must defend well against Green and get Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric to extend the Michigan State defense past its comfort zone. Coach Rick Pitino's Cardinals may be peaking at the right time.
(3) Marquette vs. (7) Florida — 10:17 PM
Tireless hustle and a relentless pace at both ends of the floor define Marquette (27-7). Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and teammate Darius Johnson-Odom give the Golden Eagles a double threat. When coach Buzz Williams' team produces a defensive effort like it did in the win over Murray State, Marquette is difficult to beat. Florida (25-10) has buried their first two opponents by a combined 70 points, but the Golden Eagles have more talent and poise than those teams. Coach Billy Donovan's Gators will need to play better defense and hit outside shots in order to advance to the round of eight.
Friday, March 23
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
(3) Baylor vs. (10) Xavier — 7:15 PM
Baylor (29-7) has an arsenal of offensive threats like Perry Jones III, Pierre Jackson and Quincy Acy, but it's the shooting of Brady Heslip that has given the Bears an edge thus far. Coach Scott Drew's team will see much better defense from Xavier (23-12) than their other opponents in the NCAA tournament. The Musketeers figure to push Heslip away from his spots on defense, while relying on center Kenny Frease and guard Tu Holloway to produce on the offensive end. Neither team is exceptionally deep, so foul trouble could quickly shift momentum.
(1) Kentucky vs. (4) Indiana — 9:45 PM
Perhaps the most anticipated of all the regional semifinals, the Kentucky-Indiana game is a rematch of a December contest won by the Hoosiers (27-8) on Christian Watford's buzzer-beating 3-pointer. For Indiana coach Tom Crean's team to win again, it will need point guard Jordan Huffs to handle the Wildcats' pressure defense and Watford to shoot well from the field. Kentucky (34-2) has Marquis Teague running its offense to maximum efficiency so far. Meanwhile, super freshman Anthony Davis is a presence on both ends of the court, but he excels at shot-blocking. The Hoosiers may try to get Davis into foul trouble, so he can't dominate the game.
Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
(1) North Carolina vs. (13) Ohio — 7:47 PM
The loss of point guard Kendall Marshall to a fractured wrist may hurt the national title hopes of North Carolina (31-5), but the Tar Heels should have enough talent to push past the underdog Bobcats. While Marshall tried to speed his recovery by having surgery on Monday, Carolina head coach Roy Williams must decide who will replace him -- senior Justin Watts or freshman Stilman White. Forward John Henson, who just returned from his own wrist injury on Sunday, will be a critical part of the Tar Heels' game plan. Ohio (29-7) is paced by guards D. J. Cooper and Walter Offutt, both of whom will try to exploit the defense.
(2) Kansas vs. (11) N.C. State — 10:17 PM
Though they seemed all but defeated by Purdue on Sunday, Kansas (29-6) rallied to stay alive and is very much a threat to make it to the Final Four in New Orleans. Dynamic forward Thomas Robinson leads the Jayhawks' offense, but guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson can make big shots when needed. N.C. State (24-12) is a surprise guest in the round of 16, but the Wolfpack has won six of seven games and believe they can play with anyone. C.J. Leslie, Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown are NC State's scoring threats, but can they guard the Jayhawks? Depth could also become an issue, as Kansas has better bench strength than the Wolfpack.