Eyeing the Elite Eight: Ohio State vs. Wichita State

LOS ANGELES – On February 5, Wichita State Shockers was in the midst of a three-game losing streak and dropped to 19-5. On February 17, Ohio State Buckeyes had lost three of its last four and was only 18-7.

And now, they will fight on March 30 for the right to go to the Final Four.

Wichita State has been overshadowed by the Florida Gulf Coasts of the field, but the Shockers – as a 9-seed – advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1981 by knocking off 13-seed La Salle Explorers . While the Shockers were the favorites against La Salle, it was the first game they had been projected by most to win. They opened up with a win over No. 8 Pittsburgh Panthers , and then pulled off one of the bigger tournament upsets when they beat top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs .

Meanwhile, the bracket opened up quite a bit for second-seeded Ohio State, as the 1-seed, 3-seed, 4-seed and 5-seed were all bounced in the first weekend. The Buckeyes have been taking care of business – albeit in heart-stopping fashion. After dispatching of Iona Gaels in the Round of 64, they beat Iowa State and Arizona Wildcats on 3-pointers in the final seconds. First, it was Aaron Craft last weekend – and on Thursday, it was LaQuinton Ross .

Wichita State and Ohio State will play at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday (CBS).

Why I can’t wait to see it: To start with, the storylines. Ohio State is looking to get back to the Final Four after losing Jared Sullinger and William Buford off last year’s Final Four group. On the other side, Wichita State is looking to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1965 – while the last No. 9 seed to make the national semifinals was Pennsylvania Quakers in 1979. Incidentally, that was the first year they seeded the field, and Penn was the only 9-seed to ever reach the Final Four.

Now, for the actual matchup. Ohio State is hitting on all cylinders right now, winning 11 in a row and playing its best basketball of the season. The Buckeyes have been locking down on the defensive end of the floor, with Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott forcing issues on the ball and taking teams out of their normal offense.

Wichita State is getting healthy at the right time, and everything is clicking. Ron Baker has been a spark since returning from a left foot injury, and everyone else is stepping up. The Shockers are knocking down shots and using their physical style to disrupt teams.

The battle on the boards could be a factor in this one. Wichita State is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and Ohio State has been more effective when it goes to a smaller lineup with Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross in the frontcourt. Can the Buckeyes keep the Shockers off the glass?

Also, Wichita State has to defend the perimeter. Ohio State has been spreading teams out and taking advantage of matchup problems with Thomas and Ross, while Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are getting open looks as a result. Throw in Craft’s ability to create shots for himself and teammates, and Wichita State could be in trouble.

Ignore the difference in seed and conference affiliation – this one is going to be a grind-it-out contest that goes down to the wire. 

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