The Buckeyes might have lost their chance to lock up a number-one seed with a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament championship game, but Ohio State has a relatively easy pass to the Final Four — and a chance at a potential rematch against the elusive Spartans.
March is a time when heroes on the hardwood earn their place in school history. It's a time for the likes of Jared Sulligner, William Buford and Aaron Craft prove that they are not just a part of another Buckeyes squad that will fall short of the ultimate prize. And they will do anything and everything in their power to keep this successful season alive.
But compared to some of the other top teams in the country, Ohio State might have a relatively easy path to New Orleans and the Final Four. In fact, they are close to being the new top team in the East Region.
Earlier on Tuesday, Syracuse announced that sophomore center Fab Melo would not be taking part in the team's March Madness activities for academic reasons. Melo is not the team's best scoring threat, but his defense has kept opponents from attacking the paint throughout most of the 2011-2012 season.
Melo's loss changes things significantly in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse appeared to be the clear number-one team in the East Region, but losing one of its starters has caused others to cast some doubts. Of course, the Orange are still extremely talented, but their paint defense might be a small weakness that Sullinger and company might be able to exploit.
Melo averaged about 25 minutes on the floor per game for Syracuse, but he had logged at least 32 minutes per contest in each of the Orange's last five outings. That's a lot of minutes for the team to absorb, and the skills he brings to the floor also most be recovered.
Besides Syracuse, the East Region is not particularly challenging. Florida State is a very obscure No. 3 seed that owns a 4-1 record against North Carolina and Duke combined but lost to other teams such as Harvard, Princeton, Miami and Clemson. Wisconsin is a very solid No. 4 seed, but a team that struggles to score is not going to go very far because its defense has its flaws, too.
Vanderbilt is an interesting number-five seed, as is No. 6 Cincinnati, but the Buckeyes might be the new favorite to emerge from the East Region. But of course, that requires the team to show up from the opening tip of the opening game. Even humble Loyola University (Md.) has a chance to bruise the Buckeyes out of the gate.
This March should be as mad as ever, and Ohio State has a prime chance to be a key character in the tournament.
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