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You’re Nuts: Who should Ohio State fans root for in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Iowa State vs Ohio State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: Who should Ohio State fans root for in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?

Jami’s Take

If you want to win: Houston

Listen, it’s been a long season for the Buckeyes on the men’s side, but they ended on a high note, and now we’ve got the lingering taste of victory in our mouths. I wouldn’t blame you if you’re itching to cheer for a team who’s going to give you more of that. And if that’s what you’re seeking, the Cougars are your guys.

They’re a No. 1 seed for a reason, and they happen to have the best record, with only three losses this season. While there are some concerns about whether guard Marcus Sasser will be healthy as he deals with a groin injury, this team feels nearly unstoppable if he plays even in just the latter half of the tournament. The toughest competition in their region is probably Texas. Xavier and Indiana, the 3- and 4-seeds respectively, probably couldn’t really do much damage against this Houston team, and while their region definitely has the potential for some big upsets in other games (No. 12 Drake over No. 5 Miami, No. 9 Auburn over No. 8 Iowa, No. 10 Penn State over No. 7 Texas A&M), Houston themselves will probably cruise straight to the Elite Eight, possibly even to the Final Four if Texas can’t ultimately match them.

They’ve got all the makings of a championship team: Experience (most of their top scorers are non-freshmen, something that should keep the team grounded throughout a tournament run), a spectacular coach in Kelvin Sampson, and two guys poised to go in the first round of the NBA Draft (Sasser and freshman power forward Jarace Walker).

If you’re ready to relax, kick back, and watch the tournament on cruise control, go with Houston. Because your other option is Alabama, who took the No. 1 seed overall, and we do NOT cheer for them.

If you love a dark horse: Arizona or UCLA

Both No. 2 seeds have the potential to take their regions for a Final Four appearance, but they’ll have to play at the top of their game. Sometimes that makes the payoff sweeter, though. If you are feeling weird about jumping on the bandwagon of another team, perhaps rooting for a dark horse will make you feel better. It feels a little less… bandwagony?

Arizona, the No. 2-seed in the South, has a tough road that will involve some tough opponents (including No.1 overall seed Alabama, Creighton or Baylor, and Missouri or the teams that beat them). But this is a team that just won the Pac-12 tournament in a major upset over UCLA in the final seconds, and they showed they’ve got heart and grit. They’ll have to focus and execute in the tournament, but they very well could ride the momentum of their latest victory straight through to the Final Four.

UCLA for its part had a spectacular season, going into their game against Arizona ranked No. 2 in the country. And now they’ve got something to prove. Their road could also include matchups against Gonzaga or Kansas, but this is a team with the talent and poise to go far into the tournament, and if you root for them, you can claim you had an eye on their talent all along.

If you want chaos: Duke or Creighton

Because sometimes, when your team isn’t in the tournament, you’re not rooting for any one team so much as you’re rooting for absolute mayhem. Duke and Creighton could be the teams to deliver that outcome for you.

I find it hilarious that Duke is the chaotic team of choice when, quite frankly, they are usually a top contender. But in the No. 5-seed, it’s hard to call them a favorite, and Buckeye fans were traumatized by Oral Roberts badly enough two years ago to know that their No.5/No.12 first-round matchup can’t be considered a shoo-in.

With that said, this Duke team has looked incredible in the last few games. They’ve overcome some tough injuries, have won the last nine straight, and when you couple that with the freshmen players finding their groove, this is a team that could really do some damage in their bracket just by being seeded as low as 5.

Creighton, for their part, is the chaotic choice in the region containing Alabama and Arizona. Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner has a nauseating 71.4% shooting percentage, and quite frankly, everyone should be terrified of that. While I have been known to call Purdue a one-trick pony where Zach Edey is concerned, I think the difference between Purdue and Creighton is that the Bluejays have other weapons in their arsenal. They’re also only a No.6-seed, so there’s the potential that teams could look past them (they would be stupid to do so, but stranger things have happened in March).

If you want people’s brackets to go berserk, get in on the ground floor of Duke or Creighton and buckle up for mayhem.

Matt’s Take

I know that Jami is trying to cover all of her bases by picking not one, not two, not three, not four, but five different teams, or 7.6% of the teams remaining at this point, but I have to give her credit for picking some good ones. In yesterday’s You’re Nuts, I picked Utah State as my double-digit seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, even though they’d presumably have to beat No. 2 Arizona, so I am obviously going to ride with the Aggies, but that would feel like a cop-out if I picked the same team two days in a row, so I’m going to go a different direction.

I won’t be picking five teams, I will be picking just one, and one that I think has a pretty decent shot to make it to the Elite Eight. I am picking Ohio State... no wait, slip of the tongue; I am going with Iowa State.

See, not only do the two schools have the same second word in their name, their first words each have four letters — three of which are vowels — and if you slur your words and don’t talk too loudly, they kind of sound the same. When you throw in the fact that one of the Cyclones’ colors is red (not scarlet, but close enough), it makes for a no-brainer of a pick.

Also, Iowa State is a good team, No. 24 according to KenPom, but not so good that you feel like a fraud for hopping on the bandwagon. As a six-seed, they will be favored in the first round over No. 11 Pittsburgh before potentially matching up with No. 3 Xavier in the Round of 32. Considering that the Musketeers beat the Buckeyes when they played early last season, that just brings a little more juice to that potential matchup.

Once all of the obvious rooting interests are accounted for, you’ve also got to look at the actual team itself. At 19-13 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12, it hasn’t been a great season for the Cyclones, but they’ve done well against ranked teams over the past month and a half. Iowa State beat then-No. 4 Kansas on Feb. 4 68-53. Then in their next matchup with a ranked opponent, Iowa State knocked off No. 22 TCU 70-59 on Feb. 15. Three days later, they fell to No. 15 Kansas State on the road by a respectable 61-55 margin.

They followed that up with a 72-54 defeat at No. 5 Texas on Feb. 21, but the Cyclones won the matchup between the teams in Ames 78-67 on Jan. 17 (more on that in a second), before beating No. 11 Baylor in back-to-back games 73-58 in the regular season finale and 78-72 in their first game of the Big 12 Tournament.

The No. 1 Jayhawks knocked the Cyclones out of the conference tournament 71-58, but it’s clear that T.J. Otzelberger’s squad will not be afraid of anyone they face. So, if Iowa State beats Pitt and Xavier, who are they most likely to match up with in the Sweet Sixteen? The No. 2 Texas Longhorns.

In the first matchup of the season between the teams, Iowa State senior guard Jaren Holmes essentially had his way with the Longhorns, scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He was buoyed by 17 points from fellow backcourt senior Caleb Grill. However, in the rematch in Austin, Grill did not play, and Holmes only accounted for nine points.

Unfortunately, Iowa State won’t be able to rely on a return to form from Grill for the tournament, because a few weeks after the loss to UT, Otzelberger dismissed the team’s third-leading scorer from the team for “failing to meet expectations.”

So, if the ‘Clones (does anyone call them the ‘Clones?) want to make it to the regional championship game, Holmes will need to turn in a better effort, and guards Gabe Kalscheur and Tamin Lipsey will need to step up as well (the pair combined for 18 in the second game against UT. All three Iowa State guards will need to perform on both ends of the floor, as Longhorn guards Marcus Carr, Tyrese Hunter, and Sir’Jabari Rice combined for 43 of Texas’ 72 points in the second game of the season series, just a few buckets shy of the Cyclones’ 54.

So, for the following reasons, I believe that Iowa State is the best and only rooting option for Ohio State fans looking to latch onto a team for the tournament.

  • Name bares phonetic and phonographic similarities to Ohio State.
  • You can still wear the team’s color without buying new clothes.
  • They aren’t a blue-blood, so you don’t have to feel icky for rooting for them.
  • They are good enough to make a run, but not so good that everybody is picking them.
  • They have a chance to beat a team from Ohio that defeated the Buckeyes last season.
  • They have beaten a lot of ranked teams this season, including the one they could meet in the Sweet Sixteen.
  • Oh, and did I forget to mention? In 2019, the No. 11 Buckeyes upset No. 6 Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.


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