In this second of four pieces examining the NCAA Tournament at the Sweet 16 point, we now turn to the South Regional, where the top seed is lucky to still be around -- and the no. 3 seed will feel right at home.
Never mind that spot at the top of the polls. Ohio State needed everything to break right at the end of regulation against Xavier, following its first-round romp of Central Connecticut State.
Having already subdued BYU in Lexington, the Musketeers led by nine with less than three minutes of play. Sensing the end, the Buckeyes pressed, hit some 3-pointers, and were within two as the clock in regulation wound down.
What followed will linger with Xavier fans for a long, long time. Off a missed shot, Greg Oden fouled Justin Cage hard. Many would say an intentional foul should have been called, all but locking up the game, and they might be right.
But the fact was that (1) Oden had fouled out, and (2) all Cage needed to do was make both of his free throws with 9.3 seconds left, and the upset would be complete.
The first shot was fine. But Cage clanged the second off the rim, and in the chaos that followed, Xavier forgot to foul anyone -- giving Ron Lewis enough time to swish that tying 3-pointer. Mike Conley Jr. took over in overtime, and the Buckeyes are still around.
Now Ohio State must deal with Tennessee, a team it scraped past in January in Columbus. The Volunteers returned to that fair city last weekend to dump 121 points on Long Beach State. After romping through Albany, Virginia could not survive a tense affair with the Vols as Chris Lofton's four clutch free throws pulled his team through.
To win the rematch with the Buckeyes, Tennessee must push the tempo to keep Oden from establishing himself inside. If it's close at the end, all the pressure will be on Ohio State, and we know Lofton can hit big shots.