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March 23, 2011
Tournament Preview
Buckeyes Loom Large in the East

by Ken Pomeroy

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East Regional
All games played at the Prudential Center in Newark

All sorts of beef shows up in Newark, where three of top four seeds have advanced, and a dangerous-looking 11-seed crashes the party. Oddly the winner of the 1 vs. 4 game is the best bet to advance to Houston.

Log5 odds

Seed                Elite8  Final4  Final   Champ    Prev
 1   Ohio St.        75.2    62.0    41.9    30.6    21.6
 4   Kentucky        24.8    15.1     6.4     3.1     3.4
 2   North Carolina  63.4    16.5     6.0     2.5     1.6
 11  Marquette       36.6     6.3     1.6     0.5     0.1

Odds for the entire Sweet 16 are here.

(4) Kentucky vs. (1) Ohio State (Friday, 9:45 on CBS)
CBS and I agree: This is clearly the marquee game of the Sweet 16. There are potentially multiple future NBA starters on both teams, Nantz and Kellogg will have the call, and the game gets the late slot on CBS. Kentucky is perhaps the best team remaining in the field outside of the big three of Ohio State, Kansas, and Duke. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Ohio State is the most likely the best team left, period.

When people say there are no great teams, I can only assume that those people have a higher bar for a great team than I do. The Buckeyes have been bullying quality competition for the past month, save for the overtime scare against Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament. OSU had a 21-point win at Penn State and a 28-point win over Wisconsin to close the regular season. After a nail-biter over Northwestern, the Buckeyes beat Michigan by eight (which wasn't nearly as close as it looked -- they led by 17 with two minutes to go) and beat Penn State by 11 in a game where they led by double-digits for the final 14 minutes. That's four thrashings of tournament-bound teams in the last three weeks in addition to the 32-point beat down of George Mason on Sunday.

Kentucky is not your run-of-the-mill tournament team, though, and it's a shame that these two teams have to meet now. Jared Sullinger will have to deal with Kentucky's Josh Harrellson, who's drawn a lot of comparisons to former Dukie Brian Zoubek. The one place where the comparison doesn't hold is that Harrellson isn't particularly foul prone considering his role. It will be interesting to see if that characteristic holds up under the pressure of guarding the best big man in the land.

(11) Marquette vs. (2) North Carolina (Friday, 7:15 on CBS)
Words.

There's been a lot of commentary about how the Marquette/Syracuse game ended, but I think Buzz Williams described it best....

But those last four minutes, how we were doubling and who we were doubling with, you've got a lot of money on the pass line and you've got full odds and you've got money on every number and you've got to keep throwing, because if you hit a 7 you're out.

As one who has recently tried to connect a casino game to basketball tactics, I give Williams credit for discussing doubling Rick Jackson in terms of craps strategy. (Being unfamiliar with craps, though, I have no idea what his point was.)

One thing neither of these teams likes to keep throwing is three-point shots. Both squads only take about one in four attempts from beyond the arc. However, both defenses force a higher-than-usual amount of shots from three-point range. Marquette possesses the shortest front line of any remaining team (and Carolina the tallest), so Buzz Williams is going to have put some more money on the pass line deciding how and when to double the Tar Heels' Tyler Zeller.

UNC is the favorite here, and despite how it may have looked in their narrow victory over Washington, it's mostly due to the effectiveness of their defense. Sure, they lay the occasional defensive dud, but those cases, as usual under Roy Williams, are more rare than they appear due to the Tar Heels' fast pace. Defensive lapses have been more unusual than offensive problems even since Kendall Marshall became the full-time point guard.

Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Ken by clicking here or click here to see Ken's other articles.

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