It happens once in a blue moon that these two teams play each other. The in-state rivalry between Ohio State and Cincinnati festered below the surface for many years, but no one would even consider putting the two teams on the same regular season schedule. Not since 1962.
Oh sure. They played each other in 2006, and the Buckeyes won big. Big deal. It was a game played in December in Indianapolis in the Wooden Tradition tournament. The game almost seemed contrived for TV ratings more than as a rematch.
Yeah, a rematch. In case you've been under a rock this past week, and have missed all of the hype, the real, meaningful last meetings between these two teams occurred in 1961 and 1962. In both of those years the two teams played each other for the NCAA National Championship. With superstar legends like Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and even Bob Knight on the roster, the 1960 National Championship team was heavily favored over the Bearcats in both of their meetings in '61 and '62. That made it even more painful when Ohio State lost to the Bearcats both times. In '61 the Bearcats won 70-65 in overtime. In '62 it was worse for the Buckeyes with Cincinnati putting an exclamation point on the previous year by winning handily, 71-59.
Now, 50 years later, Ohio State is once more being thrust into the arena against Cincinnati. Once again a shot at the NCAA Championship is at stake. Once again Ohio State is heavily favored. This this time instead of Havlicek they have Jared Sullinger, instead of Lucas they have William Buford, and instead of Bob Knight they have Alex Rogers. It's a different year, but a very familiar story. Ohio State, statistically, seems to pose the greater threat and generally thought to be a better team than Ohio State. But can they pull out the victory that moves them one step closer to the Final Four?
Cincinnati has a lot going for them. They are a quick, relentless team that never stops working and never assumes victory until the final buzzer sounds. Their previous game against against 3rd seeded Florida State was good evidence of that. Several times Florida State made a run at overtaking Cincinnati, but the Bearcats refused to give ground, and if they did then they battled even harder to win it back. This Cincinnati team has a lot of heart, and when focused in the right direction, heart can often be a tremendous equalizer against physical superiority. In the eyes of the Bearcats they already own this game, and the Buckeyes are going to have to take it away from them.
This game is either going to be a blow-out win by Ohio State, or it's going to be an extremely close game where the last team to score wins. There's not likely to be much in-between.
If Ohio State comes out of the locker room with guns a blazin', and can get Cincinnati back on their heels, look for this to be a one-sided blow-out by the Buckeyes. More likely is the scenario that the two teams will start out cautiously, each getting the feel for how the other team wants to play. Both teams will make adjustments as the first half moves on, and the pace of the game will pick up. Look for each to start to break out to a big lead just before the end of the half.
If Cincinnati hopes to stop Ohio State's attack, they're going to have to stop Jared Sullinger in the paint and put the lid on either Deshaun Thomas or William Buford as they each build their game shooting from the outside. Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon are going to have to step up their play and get past Jared Sullinger in the paint as well as Aaron Craft and William Buford on the oustside.
While they look good on paper, it's doubtful that Cincinnati has the talent to get them past the Ohio State. Their heart and determination will keep them in the game, and they will put forth a tremendous effort, but this is the year of the Buckeye, and this time around the Bearcats are not going to be able to stop them.
Prediction: Ohio State 76, Cincinnati – 62
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