Oh, we were so close to a 1-2-3-4 regional semifinal in Newark. But Marquette pulled out a win against Syracuse thanks, in part, to one of a handful of blown calls this weekend, and so we’ve got three sexy temptresses and an ugly stepsister. Hey, I love Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles, but they’re clearly out of place in Newark. No game will get more run and buzz than Ohio State-Kentucky, and rightfully so. It’ll be the nation’s favorite for the national championship playing against the team with the nation’s most rabid fanbase. It’s a Final Four-worthy game, but mis-seeding leads us here. Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg will be the ones on the call for these games. The games will be played Friday and Sunday.
Three storylines dominating Newark
1. Ohio State has looked better than anyone else. Will it continue to bulldoze en route to a championship?
2. Will UNC continue to ascend thanks to the play of Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall?
3. North Carolina and Marquette playing in the tournament for the first time since the 1977 national championship.
How They Get to Houston
No. 1 Ohio State: The Buckeyes get out of this region if they stare ahead and keep on doing what they’ve been doing. Don’t deviate from your habits, and you’ll be just fine, Bucks. David Lighty’s incredible shooting has been a huge boost, but that’s just one of the pieces falling into place to get Ohio State its second national championship in school history. I like how many are now seeing what I’ve been saying since mid-January: Ohio State is a great basketball team. Parity abounds? To an extent, but the ‘Eyes rise above. It’s going to take a national championship for that to be nearly universally recognized, but Thad Matta’s team hasn’t done anything to prove me wrong so far.
No. 2 North Carolina: Get big play from Harrison Barnes and hope Kendall Marshall continues to dish out assists in the double-digits. It needs to force the tempo and hope it can out-run teams and kill them on the secondary break. I know, what else is new. John Henson needs to avoid goaltending, too. John Henson needs to avoid dumb plays, period. He’s too good and long to be giving teams chances late.
No. 4 Kentucky: If Brandon Knight continues to play like he wants to make the most money possible in the NBA, then Kentucky will stand a chance. Knight kept UK in the game against West Virginia when Joe Mazzulla was channeling Jerry West and putting Wildcats fans into cold sweats. When Knight’s on, Terrence Jones improves. The problem is, this team’s young — a trait John Calipari’s teams will forever embody — and so it needs to grow up fast. Calipari’s a great coach, but his teams can act dumb on the regular, holding them from their potential. That can’t happen if UK wants to get by Ohio State/North Carolina.
No. 11 Marquette: Get a lot of luck and prevent all the above teams from running. Marquette doesn’t know how to win pretty, and it loses close as often as it wins. In fact, if you look around at the other regions, you could make the argument that no team faces a tougher road to reach Houston than this one, a Big East member.
Newark's five best players
1. Jared Sullinger: No way a Naismith finalist isn’t making the top of this list. The other three guys who join him — Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker, Nolan Smith — populate other regions. No need to toss out stats or further emphasize the big man’s ability and impact. You know he’s that good, so let’s move on.
2. Brandon Knight: Knight’s not as flashy as John Wall was last year, but he’s better for this team
3. Kendall Marshall: Marshall is an incredible point guard. He’s got great vision and ability to put the ball wherever he wants on the floor. If he had more athleticism, it’d be scary, and he’d be above Knight. Without Marshal, UNC’s not in the Sweet 16. That simple.
4. Harrison Barnes: Barnes’ natural talent and increased aggressiveness are too much to keep him off this list. But if UNC’s to move on, Barnes will need to have a couple of signature games next weekend.
5. David Lighty: Kentucky fans may complain Terrence Jones doesn’t crack the top five, but even they can’t deny his disappearing acts that have plagued his play for the better part of the past two months. Lighty is a critical player for Ohio State. Think Ricky Moore when Connecticut won it in 1999. Lighty’s that, and more, as he’s a sneaky sniper on the offense end.
The Ohio State Buckeyes will cut down the nets (if they choose to do so; sometimes favored teams don’t want to engage in this act until the first Monday in April) because they’re the most complete and talented team. As I stated above, they’ve done nothing to sway me from shifting my seat on the bandwagon, let alone leaping off. Maybe the veteran play of Lighty, Diebler and Buford proves most vital in these two games.
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