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The Suburbanite
  • Chris Easterling: Craft's heroics save Buckeyes in wild-West Regional

  • Did you expect anything else? Did you really think this year, a year when college basketball seemingly was all over the place during the regular season, wouldn’t produce a tournament like this one?

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  • Did you expect anything else? Did you really think this year, a year when college basketball seemingly was all over the place during the regular season, wouldn’t produce a tournament like this one?
    It’s called March Madness for a reason. If it wasn’t expected to be like this, it would be called “March Serenity” or something like that.
    So of course, you have moments like the one Ohio State — specifically, Aaron Craft — produced Sunday afternoon in Dayton.
    In a tournament already filled with bracket-altering upsets — especially in the West region the Buckeyes reside in — another one seemed like it was on the way. And No. 2-seeded Ohio State seemed like it was headed to the same ignominious fate as the No. 1 (Gonzaga), 3 (New Mexico), 4 (Kansas State) and 5 (Wisconsin) seeds in the region.
    Then Craft, whose missed free throws earlier in the game opened the door for Iowa State to rally from 13 down with 6:07 left, saved the Buckeyes’ season with the 78-75 win. And, it should be added, more than a few brackets across the country.
    The cherubic point guard made the defensive — and the most controversial — play by drawing a charge with 1:41 remaining. Then 1:40.8 later, he made the 3-pointer that sent Ohio State to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year.
    That would make the Buckeyes the only team to make the Sweet 16 each of the last four years. Not Kentucky, not Duke, not North Carolina, not Kansas can say they have accomplished that feat.
    Of course, until this year, no Ohio State team had ever gone in four straight years to the Sweet 16. Yet, that is the heights in which Thad Matta has taken the Buckeye basketball program since arriving in town in 2004.
    Now, though, the key is to continue to build off of that. And that happens by not getting caught in the chaos that has engulfed the West region when the second weekend of the tournament gets started Thursday night in Los Angeles.
    When the tournament began less than a week ago, Ohio State certainly had the look of a team capable of emerging from the West region. Thanks to the impressive run to the Big Ten tournament title, the Buckeyes certainly had become the trendy pick amongst the national pundits to reach the Final Four.
    Now, it’s neither look or trend that has Ohio State headed to SoCal as the favorite to win the wild West. It’s the fact the seeds state unequivocally the Buckeyes aren’t just the favorites, but the heavy favorites.
    Ohio State is four seeds higher than anybody left in the region. And the team that’s closest to the Buckeyes — No. 6-seeded Arizona — is the next one up for them on Thursday.
    Page 2 of 2 - After that, thanks to the madness of the first two rounds, it’ll either be a No. 9 seed (Wichita State) or a team seeded in the double digits. For the first back-to-back Final Four trips for the Buckeyes since Kennedy resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
    So, yes, Ohio State carries the weight of being the favorite. And it’s a heavy weight to carry.
    One that the Buckeyes seem ready to carry on their shoulders. Or, at least on the shoulders of their baby-faced point guard who saved his best for last.
    And saved Ohio State from the madness that is March.
    Reach Chris at 330-775-1128 or chris.easterling@indeonline.com. On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE