For the second consecutive year, the Ohio State University Buckeyes will not play in the NCAA Tournament (or the NIT for that matter). That absence leaves Buckeye fans across Ohio wondering where they can put their energy, state pride, and (in some of the more relaxed workplace pools) money. Four Ohio schools will get their chance in the Dance and any of them would be a fine candidate for your love and bracket. Even if you didn’t matriculate there, they will represent the state when the ball is tipped.
Kent State Golden Flashes (22-13, 10-8) – MAC Tournament Champions.
Kent State is arguably the hottest team on the list. The Flashes finished fourth in a hyper-competitive MAC East and earned a six seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Undaunted, KSU defeated Central Michigan, Buffalo, Ohio, and Akron en route to capturing the conference’s automatic berth. Sophomore Jaylin Walker powers the offense; the Detroit native punctuated the MAC title game with a 30 point, six rebound performance. Kent State’s highest profile win during the season may have been their 63-58 victory at Texas so winning the MAC tourney was their only path in.
The Golden Flashes have not reached the NCAA’s since 2008 when they dropped a 71-58 decision to eighth-seeded UNLV in the first round. Two years earlier, as a 12 seed, they went one-and-done to Pittsburgh. In 2002, the 10th seeded Flashes defeated Oklahoma State, Alabama, and Pittsburgh during a Cinderella-esque Elite Eight run. Indiana crushed their title dreams 81-69 in the Regional Finals.
The selection committee awarded Kent State a 14 seed in the South Region, and the Flashes will
play three seed UCLA on Friday in Sacramento. The Bruins ranked No. 3 in the most recent AP Poll which means Kent State will enter as heavy underdogs. Of course, no one expected them to win the MAC Tournament either.
Cincinnati Bearcats (29-5, 16-2 American Athletic Conference) – At-Large Bid
Cincinnati advanced to the AAC Championship Game before falling to Southern Methodist 71-56. The Bearcats finished second behind the Mustangs in the American Athletic Conference regular season as well. During the campaign the Bearcats racked up wins over a trio of ranked teams – Rhode Island, Iowa State, and Xavier. Cincinnati has consistently ranked in the AP Poll, most recently appearing 15th.
Historically, Cincinnati is one of the more prodigious programs in the state. UC won back-to-back titles in 1961 and 1962; then lost the title game in 1963. The club also reached the Final Four in 1959, 1960, and most recently 1992. This season marks the seventh consecutive NCAA appearance for Cincy; their best run ended in the Sweet Sixteen in 2012.
Cincinnati enters the Dance as the six seed in the South. They will play the winner of the Kansas State-Wake Forest on Friday. Either opponent would offer UC a fight, but the Bearcats appear poised to do some damage.
Dayton Flyers (24-7, 15-3 Atlantic 10) – At-Large Bid
Dayton earned their second straight Atlantic 10 regular season championship with a 15-3 conference record. While the club did not defeat any nationally ranked teams, they did go 9-1 in their final ten regular season games. Davidson shocked the Flyers in the first round of the A-10 Tournament, 73-67. Head Coach Archie Miller has been linked with a number college head coaching vacancies, but for now appears focused on making some noise in March.
This year marks the fourth consecutive NCAA appearance for the Flyers. In 2014, 11th seeded Dayton made it all the way to the Elite 8 with victories over six seed Ohio State, three seed Syracuse, and ten seed Stanford. The 1967 Flyers made the Final Four and reached the Championship Game, a 79-64 loss to Lew Alcindor and UCLA.
Dayton enters the field as the No. 7 seed in the South, scheduled to play Wichita State in Indianapolis on Friday. No doubt the proximity is a welcome sight to Flyers Faithful. While UD is a higher seed, Wichita State is a formidable opponent and Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Champions.
Xavier Musketeers (19-12, 9-9 Big East) – At-Large Bid
The absolute last name to be said on Selection Sunday was “Xavier.” The Musketeers lived on the bubble for the past few weeks, finishing seventh in the Big East. They ranked 24th in the AP Poll as recently as February 11, but a six-game losing streak nearly squashed their postseason hopes. Xavier defeated DePaul and Butler in the Big East Conference Tournament before falling to Creighton. Those wins may have put their resume over the top.
The X-Men suffered a gut punch loss to Wisconsin last year in the second round. Their two best seasons, 2004 and 2008, ended in the Elite 8. In 2010 they enjoyed a Sweet 16 thriller with Kansas State.
Xavier enters the Tournament with little momentum to speak of, but they nevertheless are an 11-seed in the West Region. They will battle 6-seed Maryland in Orlando on Thursday.
The most remarkable part of Ohio’s representation in the Dance may be its grouping. While Xavier appears in the West, Kent State, Cincinnati, and Dayton are all stationed in the South. That means the following intra-state matchups are on the table:
• Cincinnati vs. Kent State in the Second Round
• Cincinnati vs. Dayton in the Sweet Sixteen
• Kent State vs. Dayton in the Sweet Sixteen
The only way Xavier plays another Ohio school would be if they both appeared in the title game. Not even the fiercest Ohio apologist would predict such a matchup in her bracket, but that’s the fun of the NCAA Tournament. Anyone can beat anyone no matter where they are from. Let’s hope to see at least one Ohio school playing when the calendar turns to April.