Thursday, March 24, 2011

Border War Comes To Cincy

If you walk around the Greater Cincinnati area you are going to see the signs. Some of those signs are Kentucky Blue and some of those signs are Ohio State Scarlet and Grey.
Most of the collegiate gear in town has something to do with U.C. or Xavier, but there’s enough of the other to spark more than one sports bar argument in Cincinnati on Friday.
Ohio State and Kentucky meet in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament in Newark, New Jersey, at 9:45 p.m. The Buckeyes are the odds on favorite to win the whole shooting match while the Wildcats are talented enough to fire a fatal blast. It’s an intriguing matchup between equally intriguing fan bases.
Kentucky fans think basketball first. Ohio State fans think football first. That might be where the differences end. Both fan bases have made their program the dominant collegiate sports program in their state. Both aren’t afraid to travel long distances to support their team. Both pour huge amounts of money into their program through donations and ticket sales. Both expect to hang banners every single year. Both know how to tailgate with the best in the country. Yes, basketball fans tailgate at NCAA Regional games.
So which fan base will celebrate Friday night with hopes of a Final Four? This is going to be a close call. Ohio State is coming off a dominating performance against George Mason on Sunday. The Buckeyes dropped 16 shots from long range and won 98-66. Senior David Lighty made all seven of his three-point shots. Lighty teams with fellow senior Jon Diebler, junior William Buford, and freshman Aaron Craft for perhaps the best perimeter play in the country. But the man who has turned Ohio State into a national title favorite is freshman Jared Sullinger. The 6-9, 280 pound freshman man-child is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game. If he gets it down low, it’s over. Fellow forward Dallas Lauderdale is 6-8, 255 pounds
But Kentucky is able to match that beef with Senior Josh Harrellson and freshman Terrence Jones. Harrellson has turned into a fan favorite and is nicknamed “jorts”, a reference to a picture of him in jean shorts while attending a U.K. spring football game. He’s worked himself into the starting lineup and grabs close to 9 rebounds a game. He can also score if he’s called upon. But the freshman Jones has been handling most of the scoring load for the big men with 16 point a game. Like Ohio State, the Wildcats have some guards with big-time game. Freshman Brandon Knight leads the way with 17 points a game. Freshman Doron Lamb is pitching in with 12 points per game, while juniors Darius Miller and Deandre Liggins score 11 and 8 respectively.
The fans are even, the players are even, but the Wildcats have a better pedigree in the tournament with 13 Final four appearance and 7 National championships. The Buckeyes can boast 10 Final Fours but just one National Title. However, the Wildcats have never beaten Ohio State in an NCAA Tournament game. The Buckeyes are 5-0 against Kentucky in the tournament play, with the last meeting coming in 1987.
So again, we are back to even. Because I live in Northern Kentucky and work in Cincinnati, I should claim complete neutrality in this game and say it is “too close to call”. But what fun would that be? The Buckeyes only lost twice in the regular season while Kentucky suffered eight defeats. On first blush, I really felt the Buckeyes had the edge. After taking a closer look I don’t think that edge is insurmountable. I’ll go out on a limb and say the experienced Diebler hits a very late three point shot to win it for the Buckeyes. Either way, there will be plenty of fans cheering, celebrating, and backing their teams at Cincinnati establishments. That’s a win for everyone in the border town of Cincinnati.


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