As Far as Regions Go, the West is Wide Open

By Kyle Rowland on March 19, 2013 at 10:00a

Horace Greeley’s declaration “Go West, young man” was a harbinger of westward expansion. Manifest Destiny was in its infancy, but Greeley’s rationale for moving to the uninhabited land became a staple and influenced the course of American history. 

The House Kobe (and Shaq) Built.The Staples Center: Where the West will be won.

Some 150 years later, it’s the West Region that could have a profound effect on the Ohio State basketball program – or the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Their destiny includes an easy road to the Final Four via the Staples Center in Los Angeles. But one slip-up, like in a 2,000-mile journey, can mark the end of times.

This season’s NCAA Tournament is all about the mid-majors. Gonzaga is a 1 seed, New Mexico secured a 3 seed and the last four teams in the tournament were all from non-power conferences. Oh, the times they are a changin’. The momentum for the little guys has been building over the past decade, with 2013 signaling the end of a perceived bias toward college basketball’s blue bloods.

“Great day out here at Gonzaga,” head coach Mark Few said. “It’s an honor to be put on that No. 1 line.”

Ohio State has been one of the country’s most successful teams in recent years, but still nowhere near a Kentucky or Connecticut – by the way, neither of those teams are in the Big Dance this season. One and 2 seeds have become commonplace in Columbus, similar to BCS bowls in January. March is no longer just the start of spring football.

The Buckeyes' rapid ascension the past 30 days hit its peak on Sunday when they won the Big Ten Tournament title and were placed in a Charmin soft region. The chief competition – top-seeded Gonzaga and No. 3 seed New Mexico – hail from conferences many question every season. Kansas State, the 4 seed, is not imposing, and No. 5 seed Wisconsin is 1-2 against Ohio State and first must take care of SEC Tournament champion Ole Miss.

It might be the Wild West, but the young men of Ohio State have an opportunity to seize their moment.

“The past month or so we’ve really looked at it as if we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we can’t lose again,” Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft said. “As long as we have someone out there keeping us all together and keeping us focused on the bigger picture, that’s what it's all about.” 

For more than a decade, Gonzaga has made a name for itself as a remote program located in the Pacific Northwest that’s been able to stay atop the polls year after year. But a trip to the Final Four has never been the end result. In fact, only once have the Bulldogs advanced to the Elite Eight. This season, Gonzaga will have no excuses.

“We can't look past anybody,” said Gonzaga’s do-everything center Kelly Olynyk.

Canada's favorite son.Gonzaga's hopes ride on Kelly Olynyk.

The top half of the bracket features multiple teams that embrace the slow-down game – Wisconsin, Pitt and Wichita State. Gonzaga insists it can play any style and adapt to any opponent. Not to mention, the tiny Jesuit school could have the best player on the court every game.

Olynyk, a 7-footer, is a legit national player of the year candidate who is comfortable down low with his back to the basket and on the perimeter, a lethal combination at any level of basketball. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and a block per game.

“I always knew that I would be able to do something special here, and help this team, this program, reach stuff they’ve never done before,” Olynyk told the Globe and Mail. “I just didn’t know it would come, I guess, this fast, or with this much attention.”

While the high seeds have been labeled as underwhelming, a majority of the lower seeds have been given the status of possible Cinderellas.  Boise State and La Salle, playing in the First Four, are already being talked about as Sweet 16 teams. Fourth-seeded Kansas State, despite playing in Kansas City, is not entering the tournament as a darling of any sorts.

An even more popular pick is No. 11 seed Belmont over sixth-seeded Arizona. The Wildcats, since starting 14-0, are just 11-7. And the Belmont Bears are a tough out at this time of year. They’ve been a trendy upset pick the past two seasons, but fell short on both occasions. Belmont is averaging better than 77 points per game, ranking near the top of the country.

No. 7 seed Notre Dame and No. 10 Iowa State can each give Ohio State all it can handle. Life in the Big East and Big XII has prepared them for what the Buckeyes can do physically.

Then there is Marshall Henderson, the cocky Ole Miss guard with more bravado than one can imagine. He took the SEC Tournament by storm, vaulting himself and his team into the national consciousness.

“I had a pretty good feeling he was going to impact the team with his ability as a player,” said Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy. “He’s a gamer, makes the hard shot. But the whole Marshall Henderson phenomenon, that’s been a surprise. It’s like traveling with the Beatles. It’s crazy, honestly.”

Combine that with Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers and it’s sure to be one of the must-see games of the week.

For the next two weeks, the West Region should provide excitement and endless amounts of topics for talking heads. It could also shape up to be the region that includes numerous highlighter marks on brackets, ruining an untold number of office pools.

Hey, no one ever said everyone makes it big in Hollywood.


Comments Show All Comments

703Buckeye's picture

The only west team that makes me nervous is Wisconsin but I don't think they make it to face OSU. The Bucks definitely lucked out in getting this region.

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

TheShookster's picture

The Bucks definitely have one of the better draws/chances of making it to the Final Four. And it's really hard to not sound over-confident, but everything seems to be coming together at the perfect time. This team is playing its best basketball by far over the past 8 games, and its happening during the continuing Deshaun Thomas shooting slump. If he can even shake the slump just a tiny bit, while Craft continues to be "The Man of Steal" then it's just really hard to see a team in the west region that really scares me.

He ain't even stretch doe!!

JeffCoBuck's picture

Yes, I too was THRILLED to see the Buckeyes in this bracket.  Don't get me wrong, there are no gimmes, but the past couple of years (2011, in particular), Ohio State's regions had that one or those two teams that made your heart stick in your throat a little bit.  I don't see that team in this year's region.  They've got a great shot to get to Atlanta.

Bam_Childress's picture

Kelly Olynyk looks like Legolas

5 ft 9 in - 185 lbs - ALL HEART

AndyVance's picture

Only not as pretty and shiny...

Riggins's picture

Olynyk is legit, but I think they have a really tough draw in Round 2 against Pitt.  Their Adjusted Offensive and Defensive efficiences on Pomeroy would lead you to believe that they're worthy of a far better seed than an 8.  They've been ranked in the Top 25 most of the year.
I think Gonzaga gets bounced early by Pitt.  I'm not a Zags hater either. They just drew a team in Pittsburgh that hits all of their weakbnesses with a 7-footer than can neutralize Kelly Olynyk.
With that being said, watch Pittsburgh lose to Wichita State in Round 1 and blow my theory all to hell.  God, I love March Madness.

juventas's picture

Staples + Buckeyes.......pencil me in.

gobucks96's picture

To quote Mr. Greeley once again..."Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character."
Go Bucks! Keep showing your character and your resolve!


Squirrel Master's picture

Great draw and the one thing that makes it even better is they get to start in Dayton, right in their back yard. That right there is why I am less concerned about Iona and the winner of ND/Iowa St. It is going to be homefield all weekend!
this team is different in these past 2 months. Thompson and Scott have really turned it on lately and Ross is starting to look like next years star, and this years tourney surprise. They can go small with the lethel lineup of Craft, Scott, Smith, Ross and Thomas. That lineup can't be stopped on offense and they can handle most teams on defense. Smith and Thomas are excellent rebounders despite their size. OSU can also go big with Amir and despite his individual faults, he does man up really well with a big center, he does alter shots by just being there and he does provide hard fouls to stunt the opponents start to a game. The first 5 minutes are were teams try to figure each other out. Amir creates that havoc, for both teams, that put the early advantage with the buckeyes no matter what the score is. Then after that, bring out the blitz package and take over the game.
I don't care what anyone says, Craft and Scott are the most dynamic backcourt when they are together. Craft owns the floor and leads while Scott does his pick pocketing and craziness. In all seriousness, Craft is a better Peyton Siva and Scott is equally as annoying for opponents as Russ Smith. Only advantage they might have over the bucks is Russ Smiths electric scoring. but Craft hasn't been a slouch lately either. He has averaged 17.5 ppg against the tougher opponents over the last 8 games (Wisky, MSU(2), Indy, Illinois). He is being aggressive on offense and has been very efficient.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

thatlillefty's picture

Such a favorable draw this year... i will be devastated if we don't earn a Final 4 bid.

Chef Boyhowdy's picture

It is a favorable draw.  Everything this team has accomplished so far has been a surprise to me, so I think I'm devastation-proof.  I think.
Kyle: That Greeley quote isn't technically a declaration.  

I don't want no volunteers, I don't want no mates, there's just too many captains on this island. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.

German Buckeye's picture

One game at a's not called March Madness for nothing. 

sb97's picture

Darn straight!

buckeye4life050233's picture

I love how it's all the talk this year about Louisville got stuck with a loaded bracket and the bracket is not distributed properly yet the year ohio state got the #1 overall seed and then got stuck in a bracket with 2 seed North Carolina, 3 seed Syracuse, and underrated 4 seed Kentucky which led to Ohio state getting bounced out.......that was no big deal back then to the national media.......funny how it changes when it happens to other teams

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

I love our chance for the Final Four!  Go Bucks!  Is it Friday yet?!?!?!