Like always, this year has not disappointed anyone who is a fan of College Basketball. There clearly seems to be some parity in the league with the two Mountain West Conference teams, San Diego State and Brigham Young both in the top ten. Perennial contenders in Duke, OSU, Kansas, and Texas have all played well. As expected, the Big East conference has been both hectic as hell, and very strong with the potential to send a record 11 teams into the Big Dance.
Just last week, for the first time since 2003, all four of the top four teams lost at least once in the week. That allowed Duke to climb all the way back to the top from the 5th spot. However, even with all the teams falling this past week, this week's rankings showed no love for the one loss Aztecs from San Diego State. They remained 6th in the rankings with their only loss coming to conference rival BYU.
Just today, ESPN's Joe Lunardi came out with his updated mock bracket. His four #1 seeds were OSU, Duke, Texas, and Pittsburgh. Like many expected, his mock bracket had the big east getting 11 of their 16 teams in the tournament.
As I see it, this years Final Four will depend more than ever on who is seeded where in the bracket. There are may teams that may possibly get a high seed even though many think they are overrated or under challenged. In Joe Lunardi's bracket, OSU seems to have a decent chance to reach the Final Four with the bracket they are in. San Diego St has lost its biggest game this year so far and has another game with BYU to prove itself. The #3 seed Notre Dame, and the #4 seed Villanova have each been inconsistent in conference play.
But if OSU is unlucky in the seeding pool, I would not be surprised to see them ousted in the Elite 8. I don't want to offend any die hard OSU fans reading this blog, but I have not been impressed with them yet this year. Only once, when they blew out Purdue earlier at home, was I actually convinced that they could be a dominant #1 seed. With only one real challenge left in a home game against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes should finish the regular season with two losses and a decent favorite in the Big Ten Tournament. But I will not be convinced until I see them play together in the Conference Tournament.
I have two reasons why I think they will stumble somewhere along the way and both stem from freshman star Jared Sullinger. You may think that I am crazy since he is almost averaging a double-double, but if you pay attention to his play it is blatant that he is only a freshman. First off, he has been terrible on pick and roll defense. Probably the most basic play in basketball, the center or big man has a huge duty on switching and basically just hustling to stop the pick and roll. Purdue exploited his seemingly lazy play on the pick and roll and shot three's all day over top. He's going to have to give 100% on both sides of the court for them to make it to the Final Four.
The second thing that I noticed with Sullinger is that he did not want to take the game into his own hands down the stretch against Purdue. There were a couple of time when they cut the deficit to four points in the 2nd half. Right there would have been a perfect time to call for the ball, make a shot, then play hard defense on the other side and swing the momentum back in their favor. However, all I saw were a couple bad fouls, and David Lighty doing most of the work. He needs to take charge and really implement his dominance.
Agree with me or not, Jared Sullinger needs to mature quickly if the Buckeyes want to make a run towards a National Championship. If the recent past has showed us anything, teams that rely on freshman do NOT make it all the way. Just ask Duke's handful of white guys and Kentucky's all freshman team. If he does mature enough as a basketball player to mesh with the other veterans OSU has, then they would have a very nice chance at winning it all.
But I guess they don't call it March Madness for nothing.