Where Do Bucks Fit In Bracket?
Welcome to what we like to call the Ruckus, but only because this segment of the site lead to lively discussion and debate, not because anyone is trying to shake up the world.
In this installment, editor Jeff Rapp sits down with Matt McCoy, the renowned sports director at 610 WTVN (AM) in Columbus. They got together just prior to a recent on-air session of “Bucksline” along with WTVN basketball analyst Tony White on March 12 – when the whole sportsworld was still trying absorb the brackets and the possible outcomes of the NCAA Tournament pairings that were announced the previous evening.
Rapp and McCoy compared their chicken scratches on printed copies of online brackets and made their case for who they think will make the Final Four and what teams seemed ready to pounce and surprise in the opening rounds. In other words, they set themselves up for failure and ridicule just like anyone else trying to sort through the crazy and unpredictable postseason ahead.
A former OSU swim team captain, McCoy has been covering Ohio State basketball for basically two decades and also serves as the PA announcer for home games at the Schottenstein Center. He was there when the Buckeyes made Final Four runs in 1999 and 2007 and he was there for the lean years as well.
Rapp had just attended the Big Ten Tournament – just as he has done ever since the event began in 1998.
We pick up their conversation at the WTVN studios with March Madness beckoning:
Rapp: Well, obviously, we’re going to be embarrassed that we’re putting this on the Internet …
Rapp: … because who knows with this tournament. I made this point on the radio this morning: It felt like all year it was kind of a mediocre year for college basketball because there weren’t that many great teams, and yet when I look at some of these double-digit seeds I see teams that could definitely win a game or two. I don’t know. What was your first reaction when you first saw the bracket?
McCoy: Well, looking at Ohio State from their perspective when I saw the draw was ‘Uuhhh’ in terms of the second-round game. Now, should they beat Gonzaga or West Virginia, yes, but … I guess you need to expect that no matter who you play in the NCAA Tournament, that once you get to the second round it’s going to be difficult. But it just punched me in the face like, ‘This is not going to be easy.’
I mean, I think they should beat those teams but I would be really surprised if there’s not five minutes left on Saturday people aren’t real nervous about whether they’re going to advance to the Sweet 16. So they’ve got a tough road to hoe but I do think they are as talented as any team in that region.
Rapp: It’s funny you say that because with all the talk about the 1s – which is all we do in the run-up to this thing – and even the 2s, you think they are going to cruise into the regional finals or something, and then you look at the bracket and every one of those teams has got even a second-round game that’s probably going to be difficult. I think Kentucky is going to be OK, but Michigan State as well as they’re playing, what if Memphis is really on all cylinders? That game is interesting.
I’ve got Syracuse maybe in trouble. They’re going to probably get by K-State, who I picked to win that 8-9 game, but that team plays you down to the nub, and then you’ve got a 4-5 game of Wisconsin-Vanderbilt. And, obviously, like you said, Ohio State’s got no cakewalk.
It’s funny how you feel like there’s all this separation between those teams and the rest, and yet you could definitely see a couple of them get bumped off – and I think a couple of them will.
McCoy: Even with that said, I think Kentucky will probably manhandle Connecticut. But talk about extremes in terms of experience, you have a Connecticut team that won the whole darn thing last year that could play Kentucky in the second round, a team with lots of young kids, and if they can hang around as the game went on, you wonder how that would go. But I do think Kentucky is just going to overwhelm them with their talent.
That’s what makes it fun, though. There’s going to be somebody in the Sweet 16, a team or two, that we don’t expect.
Rapp: You got one of those teams yet? I just wrote Belmont down twice. I don’t even know a lot about them, but I’ve heard that they’re very capable of beating Georgetown. And then you’ve got what? N.C. State?
McCoy: Think about it. Virginia Commonwealth made it all the way to the Final Four last season and they played in Dayton, for heaven’s sake, in the first round. So there’s any number of teams that could do it. I don’t know if you would count a Wichita State as a surprise, but they’re in Kentucky’s region. I thought all year that maybe that was a team that could get in there. I don’t see them surviving that now.
Murray State has been talked about a lot this year. I don’t know how shocking that would be. But somebody … there’s going to be a team or two that get in there. Will they advance all the way to the Final Four like VCU and Butler did? I don’t see that, but I didn’t see that last year, so who knows.
Rapp: Some of the teams I might have picked even out two spots – Creighton, for example, sorry. They’re not getting past North Carolina if they even win, so bye-bye. Murray does have a chance, though, I think, although Marquette is just a tough out and those kids play so hard.
All right, since we’ve got our neck on the chopping block here, I circled four Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16. It looks like I also picked four ACC teams. Tell me where I’m crazy here.
McCoy: Well, I don’t think you’re crazy. I wonder about Indiana with the Verdell Jones injury and then their second-round game against either Wichita State …
Rapp: … That’s almost wishful thinking, though because (laughs) …
McCoy: … you went them to play Kentucky (laughs). I don’t think Michigan has a particularly easy first-round assignment. But again, I don’t think you’re crazy to have that many (Big Ten teams) getting there.
I like Michigan State’s road. I like Ohio State’s. While I just talked about their tough road …
Rapp: … It’s manageable.
McCoy: If they play at the level that they played this weekend, eliminating some of the stupid things that they did in the game against Michigan State, I think they’re in position to at least be there with an opportunity to get to the Final Four.
Rapp: And by the way, if any of these picks that I have down here are right, that game with Florida State, if it were to come to fruition, that could be as entertaining as any of these Sweet 16 games.
McCoy: Well, if you were to look at that region …
Rapp: … Boston?
McCoy: Yeah. You look at the region and it’s kind of the hot-team region in that Syracuse was great all year but lost in the tournament, Ohio State played well all year but lost to Michigan State, but then you’ve got Florida State, who beats Duke and North Carolina to win the ACC, Vanderbilt who beat Kentucky to get in there.
Even Cincinnati, a 6-seed, they lost the Big East title, but they were hot late and got to the Big East championship game. So a lot of teams in the East that finished the year the way you want them to finish the year going into the tournament.
Rapp: What’s weird about that region is Ohio State and Syracuse are the best defensive teams but Syracuse plays that zone, so if Vandy or Florida State got really hot you could see them knocking off Syracuse. I don’t think that matchup is good at all for Ohio State. They may need some help from somebody.
McCoy: And get Syracuse out of there.
Rapp: Yeah. And that’s what I have. I’ve got Vandy bumping them off and therefore I’ve got the path cleared for Ohio State to New Orleans. So again, wishful thinking on my part.
McCoy: You know, I felt terrible about the Syracuse matchup all year. We’ve talked about it on basketball “Bucksline” and Tony White from early in the year said, ‘Boy, you don’t want Syracuse in Ohio State’s bracket because they don’t shoot threes.’
I don’t know why, but it didn’t bother me this time. For some reason I think Thad, with preparation against that zone, will figure it out. Now, they are going to have to make some shots. I know that. It’s obviously difficult. But if it gets to that – and we’re getting way ahead of ourselves – but if it gets to that, I think Deshaun Thomas is huge in that. I could see him, like, finding a seam at the foul line or something and being able to hit that jump shot. You know what I mean?
Rapp: No doubt.
McCoy: He’s the guy that could, within that zone, make some things. And also …
Rapp: … Because he’s got some size, too. You can’t just have shooters. You’ve got to have shooters with some size because they’ve got so much length.
McCoy: And also he can sneak in there for some offensive boards against that. I could see Jared (Sullinger) getting some offensive putbacks. I may be crazy but I don’t see that as petrifying as it did maybe a month ago.
Rapp: Well, Syracuse is maybe as intriguing as anybody in this tournament to me because, I don’t know about you but I picked Jim Boeheim, maybe by default, as the national coach of the year. You think about what he’s gone through with the Bernie Fine thing and injuries to players and them kind of trying to keep up with Kentucky and everything, they’ve done a great job. This team didn’t even make it to New Jersey last year.
Rapp: Obviously it’s a different team, but I think you make a good point with the preparation thing, and don’t forget that Ohio State will see them in Pittsburgh, so I would imagine that Jeff Boals and Dave Dickerson or whoever are going to sneak out and watch a little bit of those games.
McCoy: Yeah. A lot of coaches have always said that matchups is the key to getting to the Final Four. That is a difficult matchup and I think with preparation they’d be OK, but clearly I would think that Ohio State would be happy if Syracuse got knocked off along the way. Not that (playing) Vanderbilt would be easy or heaven forbid playing Wisconsin again, but a lot is determined by what happens in your bracket and who gets knocked off and who doesn’t.
Rapp: So do you want to be bold enough to pick an Elite Eight and Final Four for me?
McCoy: I don’t know why, but I think Ohio State is going to get there, to the Final Four.
Rapp: I’ve got them there, too.
McCoy: And I say that because two weeks ago if you’d have asked me I would have said, “No way.”
Rapp: Boy, Tony’s about to tell us how crazy we are.
McCoy: I know. But I just feel, I don’t know. They’ve been taking a lot of grief this year. Put it this way: I’d believe anything. I could see them losing to Gonzaga or West Virginia in the second round, but I could also see them cutting down the nets.
Rapp: In Bah-ston – with Jim O’Brien there (laughs).
McCoy: Kentucky, I don’t see anybody knocking them off in that region.
Rapp: Nope. I like Missouri. I don’t know about you.
McCoy: You like Missouri over Michigan State?
Rapp: I like Mizzou down there.
McCoy: I think Michigan State’s going to get there and then lose to Kentucky. And then … boy, I’m going to go Kansas over North Carolina.
Rapp: OK, with the home cooking there?
McCoy: They will be getting some home cooking, that’s right, with it being in St. Louis. I’m going to take Kansas over North Carolina.
Rapp: Well, you see who I wrote down on this line here (pointing to the championship box in the middle of the bracket).
McCoy: You have North Carolina as the title winner.
Rapp: Their problem, honestly, is they’re almost too good. They’re so good, they can get away with playing in waves – and, obviously, it’s hard to win a national championship doing that, but …
McCoy: … I guess I don’t think they play good enough defense.
Rapp: I was a little worried about that as well, but, man, they’ve got all the firepower. And everyone talks about matchups. If you really look at matchups, they’ve got a great point guard, they’ve got a great wing forward, they got one of the best front lines, if not the best, in college basketball. They’re not a great shooting team, but they’re good enough, and they’ve got a great coach.
It wouldn’t shock me at all to see them win this whole thing.
McCoy: I would be really surprised if we had a last-year scenario where a mid-major is in there. I think the power conferences are going to flex their muscles. So, we’ll see.