Basketball: Bring on the madness

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From the March 15, 2012 edition

THE BUCKEYES’ PATH TO THE FINAL FOUR

There’s no telling how the Buckeyes’ bracket will look after the inevitable upending that always makes March so mad. That said, this is our best guess about what stands between Ohio State and New Orleans. (Note: The NCAA considers the “First Four” play-in games, played earlier this week, to be the first round, so most teams begin in the second round.)

Second round: (15) Loyola (Maryland) Greyhounds

OK, upsets can sneak up on anybody, but we see little reason to believe the Buckeyes won’t crush the Greyhounds. Next.

Third round: (10) West Virginia Mountaineers or (7) Gonzaga Bulldogs

We can’t decide who’s more likely to win the second-round scuffle between the Bulldogs and Mountaineers, but either team could send Ohio State home early if the Buckeyes lose focus.

Sweet 16: (6) Cincinnati Bearcats

Florida State is the hot team right now, but they can’t score, so the Bearcats seem most likely to face Ohio State in the Sweet 16, setting up just the second matchup between the neighboring powers since 1962.

Elite 8: (5) Vanderbilt Commodores

Now that Syracuse’s 7-foot sophomore Fab Melo has been ruled ineligible for the tournament, the Orangemen’s chances of cracking the Elite 8 seem slim. Wisconsin’s Badgers went home early at the Big 10 Tournament (er, #B1GTOURNEY). So if the Buckeyes make it this far, we think they’ll be facing Vanderbilt, the team that just knocked off No. 1 Kentucky.

FIVE MATCHUPS WITH UPSET POTENTIAL

(4) Louisville vs. (13) Davidson

1:40 p.m. Thursday, March 15

Louisville ran through the Big East Tournament, and coach Rick Pitino has this team peaking under the strength of his pressure defense. But the Cardinals were upset early by Morehead State last year, and Davidson is no joke. The Wildcats won their conference regular season and tournament — just like when they made an Elite Eight run in 2008 — and beat Kansas in December.

(5) New Mexico vs. (12) Long Beach State University

4:10 p.m. Thursday, March 15

The 5-12 matchups are generally close calls, and every year at least one 12-seed pulls off the upset. Long Beach State has valuable senior leadership in four starters that will need to step up against New Mexico’s depth that allows the Lobos to play aggressive all game.

(5) Wichita State vs. (12) Virginia Commonwealth University

7:15 p.m. Thursday, March 15

This 5-12 matchup pits two mid-majors with completely contrasting styles against each other. Last year’s Cinderella (VCU) — one of the best defensive squads in the country — faces the high-powered offense of the Shockers. Can VCU make another historic run? Wichita State is probably too strong, but the Rams’ Shaka Smart is one of the hottest coaches in country and always has his team prepared.

(3) Florida St. vs. (14) St. Bonaventure

2:45 p.m. Friday, March 16

No one expected the Bonnies to be here, but winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament (and knocking out a host of potential at-large teams) will do that for you. Similarly, few would have pegged the Seminoles to surge all the way to a 3-seed, but that’s what happens when you upset North Carolina atop the ACC. Both teams have a hot hand, so their showdown Friday should be a firecracker.

(4) Michigan vs. (13) Ohio

7:20 p.m. Friday, March 16

In 2005, the Bobcats gave Florida a run for its money. In 2010, they upset Georgetown. In 2012, they’re so pissed off at Michigan for calling Ohio State “Ohio” that they might as well be the favorite.

[Dispatch file photo]