The NCAA tournament field of 68 is down to the Sweet 16, with play set to resume on Thursday night in Boston and Phoenix and on Friday night in Atlanta and St. Louis.
Of the four East Region teams set to play Thursday night at TD Garden, the second-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes are the 11-10 favorites at Bovada to land in the Final Four. OSU is the only No. 2 seed favored to win its region -– top-seeded Kentucky (South), Michigan State (West) and North Carolina (Midwest) are all favorites in their regions.
The Buckeyes — the Big Ten tournament runners-up — were extremely impressive in their first two games of the Big Dance. They blasted No. 15 seed Loyola (Md.) 78-59 last Thursday behind a career-high 31 points and a near career-best 12 rebounds from Deshaun Thomas. The big Buckeyes pummeled the Greyhounds down low with a 49-24 rebounding advantage and a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint.
Then on Saturday, OSU beat No. 7 seed Gonzaga 73-66 behind 18 points from Thomas and 18 points from All-American Jared Sullinger despite playing in foul trouble for most of the game. However, the Sweet 16 hasn't been kind to Ohio State of late. In 2010, No. 2-seeded Ohio State lost to sixth-seeded Tennessee. Last year, No. 4-seeded Kentucky eliminated the heavily favored and top-seeded Buckeyes in the regional semifinal.
Despite that trend, OSU is now the second overall favorite to win the NCAA tournament at 11-2 (Kentucky is the favorite at 11-5). UK and Ohio State could only meet in the national championship game.
The Buckeyes' opponent on Thursday is sixth-seeded Cincinnati -– there are four schools from Ohio still standing in the tournament (Xavier and Ohio University being the others). The Bearcats, who lost in the Big East tournament final, had two close calls last week, beating Texas 65-59 and ACC tournament champion Florida State 62-56 in a mild upset on Sunday. Cincinnati is in its first regional semifinal since 2001 and faces Ohio State for only the second time since beating the Buckeyes in 1961 and 1962 for back-to-back national championships.
Cincinnati is the longest shot to win the East Region at 8-1 and opened as a 7 1/2-point underdog against the Buckeyes.
The first game on Thursday at the Garden is No. 4 Wisconsin against No. 1 Syracuse, with the Orange opening as four-point favorites. Syracuse, the Big East regular-season champion, is the 21-10 second favorite to emerge from Boston this weekend. The Orange were dealt a crushing blow two days before their tournament opener when center Fab Melo, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, was ruled ineligible.
And then the Orange nearly suffered the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history before edging No. 16-seeded UNC-Asheville 72-65 last Thursday. A No. 16 has never beaten a No. 1 seed.
Syracuse followed that with a better performance, beating Kansas State 75-59. The Orange caught a break as KSU's leading rebounder, Jamar Samuels, was held out of the game due to an eligibility issue.
Wisconsin is 4-1 to win the region. The Badgers blew out Montana in their tourney opener, but were pushed to the limit in the Round of 32 by Vanderbilt before prevailing 60-57. Vandy star John Jenkins missed a wide-open, potential go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Wisconsin has the nation's No. 1-ranked defense, allowing just 52.9 points per game. It's the second Sweet 16 in a row for Wisconsin, which lost in that round a year ago to Butler.
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