Updated Fri, Mar 23, 2012 1:41 pm
Ohio is in the Sweet 16. The Sweet 16.
Chew on that for a second. The Ohio Bobcats are playing alongside 15 of the best college basketball teams in the United States. Does that mean Ohio is one of the 16 best teams in the nation? Maybe.
Ohio is the lowest seed left in the tournament. Dj Cooper and John Groce have become, not household, but barbershop names. People know them…kind of. CBS has removed the “U” from Ohio’s scoreboard abbreviation. And the Ohio State Buckeyes have been mistaken for the Ohio State Bobcats because Verne Lundquist had the “Bobcats on the brain.”
It’s safe to say that Ohio has avoided the national media flood. Nobody’s talking about the Bobcats much at all. They see that the 13th-seeded Bobcats have made it to the Sweet 16 and say, “Well, that’s nice.” The Ohio Bobcats are just the next piece of litter on North Carolina’s cluttered road to the Final Four. Ohio has been overshadowed by other stories in this tournament and has managed to escape all but scraps of attention from national media.
On Friday, March 16, the Bobcats garnered most likely their biggest win of the season when they toppled fourth-seeded Michigan in the first round of the tournament. That very day, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks took down the Duke Blue Devils and the Norfolk State Spartans took down the Missouri Tigers. Two 15 seeds took down two seeds.
Meanwhile, Ohio slid past the radar.
On Sunday, March 18, Ohio knocked out one of the top defensive teams in the nation in South Florida. The Bulls outsized the ‘Cats tremendously down low, had Ohio playing their game for the entirety of the first half, but lost their cool after a few turnovers sparked by a Stevie Taylor steal in the second half. Ohio went on to control the most important part of the game – the end – and emerged victorious. Tournament dreams were coming true.
On that very day, Kendall Marshall, North Carolina point guard, fractured his wrist. NC State continued its improbable run toward tournament glory. Cincinnati and Xavier both advanced into the Sweet 16 after both teams’ seasons seemed to be unraveling after the bench-clearing brawl between the two early in the season.
Meanwhile, Ohio slid past the radar.
The story of the ‘Cats’ next game against North Carolina is still Marshall’s wrist. Ohio has managed to escape all attention due to the weight Marshall’s injury holds on the rest of the Tar Heels’ tournament. People are worried about the immediate future of North Carolina. When will Marshall play? This week? The Elite Eight? The Final Four? Beyond? When? It seems there is no doubt that the Heels will be playing for a long while in this tournament.
Meanwhile, Ohio is sliding past the radar.
The other big stories of this tournament have overshadowed what Ohio has done. Throughout the big dance along with the MAC tournament, the Bobcats have been winning…duh. But with those wins has come confidence. With each win, the Bobcats get a bit more confident, which has led to better results on the floor against big-time opponents.
Ohio is not bigger than North Carolina. Ohio is not stronger than North Carolina. Ohio is not more athletic than North Carolina. (Tell us something we don’t know.) But the Ohio Bobcats are almost as confident as it gets at this point. That’s all Ohio can say they have over the Heels, if anything at all. North Carolina has done everything they were supposed to thus far in the tournament. They’ve steamrolled two far weaker opponents and they’re supposed to bowl over a third on Friday.
Ohio has done the unexpected. The ‘Cats weren’t supposed to win at all. They have exceeded expectations no matter what the result of their next game. How’s that for a confidence boost? All Ohio can do is stay crisp, stay cool and stay confident to try to be a road block in North Carolina’s path. If Ohio puts on the uniform with the mindset that the green and white far outshines the Carolina blue, there is nothing saying that can’t happen on the court. With a pair of glass slippers packed in their duffle bags, the Ohio Bobcats may not be all too far from turning that into a reality.