The Sweet 16 opens up on Thursday night as the sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats take on the second seed Ohio State Buckeyes. The game is scheduled for a 9:45 pm start time and it will be televised nationally on CBS. Currently the odds have Ohio State favored by 7.5 points in this one with the total at 129 points.
Free Analysis: It's an all-Ohio Sweet 16 matchup as these schools make up two of the four teams from the state of Ohio competing in this round of the tournament. "What I've felt all along is it's just a tremendous state for basketball," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who also coached at Miami of Ohio and Xavier before taking over the Buckeyes in 2004. "I think a lot of times in the high school ranks it gets tabbed as a football state, just all the great players that they've put out. But just in the time that I've been there. I've got a pretty good understanding of how passionate the fans are. It takes a lot of luck for four teams to get here, obviously. I think it speaks volumes to the level of basketball in the state." Thad Matta sounds ready to go, but is his team? The Buckeyes earned a spot in tonight's matchup with their in-state counterparts by beating Loyola, Maryland and Gonzaga in the tournament to date. The matchup with the Zags started off as a close encounter and pretty much stayed a slugfest for the remainder of the game. The Zags put up a fight, but Ohio Sate is just too tough of a matchup both inside and on the perimeter. Cincinnati can be a big, physical squad as well, so this should be a bruising game between two great clubs. The Bearcats don't really like being lumped in with Ohio State at this point in the season, and playing them in the Sweet 16 is just part of the game. "Since it’s the Sweet 16, it’s not about Ohio State versus Cincinnati," said Cincy center Yancy Gates. "We’re focused on getting to New Orleans like everybody else." Buckeye forward Jared Sullinger said he's looking forward to playing the Bearcats, but there is no love lost between the two schools. "There’s still kind of bad blood between the schools," Sullinger said. "So this one is going to be remembered for whoever goes to the Elite Eight, and it’s going to be a battle of Ohio." The Buckeyes can score inside and out, depending on their opponents. Based on a bruising team in Cincinnati, the winning recipe might be a big combination of the two. Deshaun Thomas has proven he can play on the big stage by averaging more than 24 points per game in the tournament so far. Sullinger is no slouch and Ohio State will look to get the ball inside to him whenever they are in need of a bucket. The Bearcats will look to counter with the inside presence of Gates inside. Cincinnati hasn't exactly pounded down the doors offensively in their first two tournament games, beating Texas 65-59 and Florida State 62-56 in games that remained close the entire time. Defense for the Cats will be important in this game, and will they be able to rebound the ball as well? Cincy runs a crazy 4-guard set quite often and can spread the Buckeyes out. The defense by Ohio State's Aaron Craft and William Buford will be critical for the Buckeyes in this one. I like the rivalry that could come from this game and to me, both teams are going to be slugging back and forth at each other. In a game like this, it's tough to look strictly at the numbers for each team and be able to decide just what is going to happen. I think it should be close as the Bearcats have proven they can play on a big stage, winning 12 games in the Big East this season. I'm predicting a bruising contest in this one.
Free Pick: I'll take the points with Cincinnati. In a game that should be rough and tough, if the Bearcats can use their speed with guard play to their advantage, it could be a tough matchup for the Buckeyes. However, Ohio State to me has been one of the best teams in the country all season and when it comes down to talent, I think they are much better than Cincy. That doesn't always mean wins at this portion of the season, so I think getting 7.5 points in a Sweet 16 matchup with some rivalry factors is a good find for us. The number opened at 7.5 and has gone up and down a half point for the majority of the week. We'd be happier with the full 8 points in this contest but I think the 7.5 is a good spot for us in this one.
Betting Strategies: March Madness 2012 - Recaps and Tips Host Marco D'Angelo and Pregame Pro Bryan Leonard discuss their recaps of the first "half" of the NCAA March Madness tournament and give their insight and tips on how to approach Sweet 16 and beyond.