Have you filled out your brackets and entered tBBC’s annual bracket challenge? If not, what are you waiting on? Get on it.
We head West for the second of our four region previews in preparation for the greatest weekend in sports. After our first preview of the loaded Midwest region, the West is a bit less exciting as on paper it is probably the easiest of the four regions, challenged only by the East.
Favorite – Arizona had to be thrilled about their draw in this one. Not only is the West the easiest of the regions, the Wildcats will also get to avoid a lot of travel as they never play more than 471 miles from their campus and fans will have easy access to direct flights that last no more than an hour and a half for the first two weekends; no other team’s fans will have it that easy. Travel will be even easier for the team as getting out of the first weekend means just a fairly short drive up the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles.
It’s not just the short travel and large fan support that the Wildcats will get that makes them the favorite in the region; Arizona put together an impressive season, finishing in second place in the RPI with a 30-4 record while playing the nation’s fourth hardest schedule. The Wildcats won their first 21 games of the season in a stretch that included wins over San Diego State (4 seed in the West), Duke (3 seed in the Midwest), Michigan (2 seed in the Midwest), and UCLA (4 seed in the South), among others. The loss of Brandon Ashley to injury hurt the Wildcats, they’ve gone 9-4 without him, but this team still has offensive weapons. The key to Arizona’s success has been a stifling defense that has limited opponents to 58.1 points per game on 38% shooting; this defense doesn’t seem to have lost a beat following Ashley’s injury.
While the details are still coming out, I can’t stop thinking about how amazing the situation in Cleveland was yesterday. We need more folks like Charles Ramsey who would be willing to get involved when it’s easier to just mind their own business. Only one soundtrack possibility today, then.
The Arizona Wildcats gave the Buckeyes a rude welcome to the Sweet 16 to start, but the Buckeyes put together an excellent run to reclaim the lead and put the game away 73-70 on a last second LaQuinton Ross three pointer to advance to the Elite Eight. Despite the rough start, the game developed into a back and forth battle that Arizona very nearly reclaimed. DeShaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 20 points, and was joined in scoring by LaQuinton Ross (17), Aaron Craft (15), and Sam Thompson (11). Arizona was led by Mark Lyons’ 20 points, along with Solomon Hill’s 16.
Arizona controlled the first half for the balance on the strength of a stifling defensive effort. The work shutting down the OSU offense turned into easy points on the other end for the Cats, often on the fast break, but also against a surprising flat Buckeye defense. Of course, that wasn’t about to stop the Wildcats from building a double digit lead with their three point shooting, mostly while Aaron Craft sat on the bench with 2 fouls. But, Thad Matta wasn’t going to let it stay that way. With six minutes to go in the half, Matta risked putting Craft back into the game to try regain control of the momentum. The strategy worked brilliantly, allowing the Bucks to finish on a 12-6 run to close to within 4 points going into the locker room.
What didn’t help the effort for either team was the ludicrous pace of the game as dictated by the officials. I won’t say that the calls were necessarily wrong, but with both teams in the bonus with just under 10 minutes to go in the first half, there were certainly a lot of them. Only at the very end of the half did the officials seem to loosen up on the controls and allow the players to simply play the game.
The Buckeyes came out of the half ready to play basketball. OSU jumped out on a quick 8-0 run on the strength of their own tough defense to take their first lead since the opening possessions. They were able to continue to push that momentum to a solid 8 point lead while continuing to suppress Arizona’s scoring. Not surprisingly, that wasn’t to last. After building up a 10 point lead, the Buckeyes found themselves taking fire from Solomon Hill of Arizona, who sank 9 straight points and brought the game within four.
The Buckeyes have advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 4th time in as many years on the strength of an Aaron Craft dagger – which I’m sure everyone has seen by now. Next up are the 6th-seeded Wildcats of Arizona in sunny Los Angeles.
For more on Sean Miller’s team, check out Ken’s work from a couple days ago.
Join us and The Buckeye Blog, Buckeye Empire, Men of the Scarlet and Gray, and Buckeye Ninja as we cheer on the Buckeyes in tournament time! The chat will kick off around 7:30 PM Eastern, with tip off on TBS (note the “T”!) around 7:47 pm.
Special thanks to Fox Sports Ohio for graciously helping with these livechats all year long!
Here’s a look at the Top 25 Week Ahead and Week in Review
1. Duke (14-0, 1-0) Previous Rank: 1
Past Week: 1/2 @ Davidson, W 67-50 & 1/5 Wake Forest, W 80-62
Upcoming: 1/8 Clemson & 1/12 @ (23) N.C. State
After being tied at halftime with Davidson, Duke pulled away to stay unbeaten. This week a trip to N.C. State will prove to be their first test in the ACC. Read More
As per our tradition, we’ll be giving you a quick rundown on all the bowl games… if nothing else, it will help you have enough information to explain why you need to sit and watch the game instead of finishing your Christmas shopping.
History: We’re again coming at you from beautiful Albuquerque ballooning capital of the world. This year’s event is sponsored by Gildan, so it’s safe to say that they’ve got their post game attire covered. Player “gifts that can’t be sold under any circumstances” include Oakley shades, hat, and backpack. Again, these can’t be sold.
Originally created to bring tourism to New Mexico, this is yet another one of the bowl games that ESPN runs to fill the time in the holidays. Yeah, there’s no conflict of interest there, although I think that, this may be one of the better early matchups this bowl season.
Arizona Scouting Report: In Rich Rodriguez’ first season, he picked up right where he left off at TTUN and West Virginia, scoring in bunches. Lead by senior quarterback Matt Scott’s 3200+ yards passing and Ka’Deem Scott’s 1700+ yards on the ground, they were 2-3 against the top 25, including a huge upset of Southern Cal. Unfortunately, they also were pounded pretty soundly by Oregon and UCLA-they ended up being 103 in the nation in points against at the end of the season.
Buckeye Connection: Ohio State obviously owns Rich Rodriguez, but the Buckeyes are 1-3 against the Wildcats; their only win came in 1991. If they were to play this season, though, it would be a close matchup… Ohio State struggled against the type of Offense that Arizona has run this year. Heavy doses of Hyde would eat clock and control the game, though.
Nevada Connection: The Wolfpack took a step back this year from their position at the top of the Mountain West conference; they have been the thorn in Southern Idaho State’s side for the last several season. Seventh in the nation in rushing, their two headed monster (RB Stepfhon Jefferson and QB Cody Farjado have amassed 2600 yards on the ground this season. They knocked off Cal early in the season, and beat South Florida in week two, but have struggled at the end of the season.
Buckeye Connection: The Buckeyes have never faced Nevada, but it’s safe to say that the Silver Bullet defense is geared toward stopping the run; I imagine that OSU would pull away from the Wolfpack in the second quarter and not look back.
Predictions: Here’s what we think will happen
This one might just be a shoot out- Arizona can score points in bunches, but can’t stop the run; Nevada has a top rushing attack. Neither team will have much of a home field advantage, although it will be interesting to see how many folks want to travel for an early bowl game. In the end, though, I see Arizona getting a late stop to hold on for the win.
Even though the week featured many blowouts and easy wins, this week’s Top 25 has many changes to it from the previous week. Two teams dropped out of the polls, including a Top 10 team disappearing from the nation’s top teams. This week’s action also only featured one loss to any of the current Top 25 teams (it would have been two if Colorado decided to get off the plane in Kansas). The upcoming week only features one Top 25 matchup when (6) Florida travels to (8) Arizona but does feature some possible upset alerts (We’re looking at you Purdue and West Virginia).
Here’s a look at the Top 25 Week Ahead and Week in Review.
1. Indiana (9-0) Previous Rank: 1
Past Week: 12/8 Central Connecticut State, W 100-69
Upcoming: 12/15 Butler
Indiana cruised to a victory over Central Connecticut State but this week’s Butler team will be a tougher challenge for the Hoosiers
2. Duke (9-0) Previous Rank: 2
Past Week: 12/8 Temple, W 90-67
Upcoming: No Games This Week
The Blue Devils didn’t have any let downs after an emotional win against Ohio State in walloping Temple. This week they look to rest a little bit with an off week
3. Michigan (9-0) Previous Rank: 3
Past Week: 12/4 Western Michigan, W 73-41 & 12/8 Arkansas, W 80-67
Upcoming: 12/11 Binghamton & 12/15 @West Virginia
The Wolverines were challenged from time by Arkansas but pulled away in the end to defeat the Razorbacks. They travel to Morgantown to meet upset-minded West Virginia.
4. Syracuse (8-0) Previous Rank: 6
Past Week: 12/3 Eastern Michigan, W 84-48 & 12/6 Long Beach State, W 84-53 & 12/8 Monmouth, W 108-56
Upcoming: 12/15 Canisius
Syracuse continues the cream puff part of their schedule as Jim Boeheim works toward becoming the third coach in history with 900 wins.
5. Louisville (8-1) Previous Rank: 6
Past Week: 12/4 @Charleston, W 80-38 & 12/8 Missouri-Kansas City, W 99-47
Upcoming: 12/15 @Memphis
Not much to speak of with Louisville either, as they breezed past their two opponents this past week and Memphis probably won’t be much different.
6. Florida (7-0) Previous Rank: 7 Read More
In spite of the huge win in Happy Valley on Saturday, I’m feeling a bit of the blues are in order for this week’s recap. So, enjoy some Collins, Cray, and Copeland.
It’d be easy to say that this week was “spook-tacular”, and “scary” for a lot of top teams, but that would be way to easy. So, let’s just admit that Saturday once again proved that we’re fans of the greatest sport in the world; because anything can happen once the ball is kicked.
As a promise to a “friend” that’s a Notre Dame fan who I’ve been justifiably ripping for the last ten years, we’re leading off this week with the Irish’s huge win in Norman over the Sooners. Like most of America who pays attention to the sport, I imagined that Oklahoma would stomp a mud hole into Brian Kelley’s team- Stoop’s defense, high powered offense… not exactly playing Air Force here. So, because the Irish emerged victorious, undefeated, and “relevant” enough to bump up to the third ranking spot in the BCS, I tip my journalistic cap to them- particularly their defense, which is playing lights out this season. Although they gave up their first* (non-official assisted) rushing touchdown to Oklahoma, they were able to keep Sooner QB Landry Jones guessing all night long. That’s not to say that we’re not without some controversy, as the “luck of the Irish” continued when Heisman Candidate Manti Te’o intercepted the Sooners late in the game to seal away the victory. Your perspective of the play will depend on your hopes prior to the game- Irish fans were elated, others thought that the initial play was a case of pass interference resulting in a ball that clearly touched the ground. At any rate, complaining about the officiating is better left to other fan bases; the Irish are undefeated, and have overcome all but one of the games that had people pointing to theirs as the toughest schedule in college football. Congrats indeed.
Although… How much of this gets pinned on Bob Stoops? “Big Game Bob”, as we’ve discussed before, has built a reputation on an early BCS championship and his ability to beat his rival. However, given the state of his rival over the past few years, is it really fair to continue to give him a pass for his team’s coming up short in these types of games? The loss to Notre Dame is the second at home this year… although, to be fair, both teams are undefeated currently. So, Sooner fans- enjoy that BCS win over Connecticut a few years back, and hope that things can get turned around in the B12 for your squadron in the near future.
Since we alluded to them, let’s talk Texas, shall we? It took some late game heroics by a McCoy (no, not that one) to keep from being beaten by Kansas. You read that correctly… the Jayhawks and their “Coach by weight” strategy were within seconds of beating the Longhorns and turning the heat even higher up on coach Mack Brown. I’m not one to jump on a dead bandwagon- check out the great “post a picture of our defense” thread on Shaggy Bevo- but I still can’t figure out how the flagship school in one of the most talent rich states in the nation continues to struggle on the field. Granted, it may be the competition in the conference and adjacent conferences, but you’ve got to think they’d be able to be successful whether or not there’s a prodigy at quarterback.
Also in the B12, Kansas State, the new #3 in the BCS continues to roll, playing even with Texas Tech for a half and then making the adjustment necessary to blow out the Raiders in Lubbock. Read More