Ohio State and Cincinnati are joined by Ohio University and Xavier University, marking the first time four schools from the same state have reached the final 16 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament in the same season.
Tonight’s game in Boston marks the third time Ohio State and Cincinnati will meet in the NCAA tournament and the first time since the Bearcats won back-to-back championships against the Buckeyes in 1961 and 1962.
“It still kind of has bad blood between the two schools,” Ohio State’s All-American forward Jared Sullinger said. “So this one is going to be remembered for whoever goes to the Elite 8 and it’s going to be a battle of Ohio.”
Ohio State (29-7), the second seed in the East, tips off against No. 6 Cincinnati (26-10) following tonight’s first regional semifinal in Boston between No. 1 Syracuse University and the fourth-seeded University of Wisconsin.
Today’s other two games are at the West Regional in Phoenix, where top-seeded Michigan State plays No. 4 Louisville and No. 3 Marquette meets No. 7 Florida.
The South and Midwest regionals have their semifinals tomorrow in Atlanta and St. Louis, respectively.
Midwest No. 1 seed North Carolina plays No. 13 Ohio, which is the lowest seed to reach the regional semifinals, and No. 2 Kansas faces 11th-seeded North Carolina State.
The regional finals will be played March 24-25, with the winners advancing to the Final Four on March 31 at the Superdome in New Orleans. The title game is two days later.
Ohio State is favored by 7 1/2 points tonight against Cincinnati. The Buckeyes also were picked to win 51 years ago. That year, Ohio State brought a 27-0 record into the title game and had a roster that featured Hall of Fame players Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, two other future National Basketball Association players and future Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight.
Cincinnati defeated the top-ranked Buckeyes 70-65 in overtime and then beat Ohio State again the next season 71-59 in the NCAA tournament’s championship game.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta said he’s excited for the schools to have another chance to meet on a national stage and highlight the quality of basketball in the state of Ohio.
“What I’ve felt all along is it’s just a tremendous state for basketball,” said Matta, who previously coached at Xavier and Miami University of Ohio. “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, but by the same token, it speaks volumes to the level of basketball in the state.”
Cincinnati reached the regional semifinals three months after a brawl halted a Dec. 10 game against Xavier and resulted in the suspension of eight players from the schools. It’s the Bearcats’ first appearance in the round of 16 since 2001, and coach Mick Cronin said it’s especially rewarding for a team that’s matured since the fight.
“We really focused on making sure we were having fun and not letting that define us,” said Cronin, whose team has won both of its first two tournament games by six points. “We’ve been on a mission to define what Cincinnati basketball is all about, what our university and city is all about, and the kids have banded together to do that.”
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