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Sweet 16 Preview East Regional - (4) Kentucky vs. (1) Ohio State

Friday, 30 minutes after Marquette/North Carolina

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Top-seeded Ohio State will play No. 4 seed Kentucky in the late Friday East Region semifinal at the Prudential Center in Newark. The Buckeyes are 34-2 for the season and 16-2 in the Big Ten this season; the Wildcats enter the game with a 27-8 record.

Ohio State defeated play-in game winner, sixteenth-seeded Texas-San Antonio, on Friday in Cleveland and dismantled No. 8 seed George Mason 98-66 on Sunday to advance to the regional semifinal. The Wildcats arrived at the regional semifinal with wins over No. 13 seed Princeton and No. 5 seed West Virginia in Tampa last weekend.

This is the best of the four Friday games, hands down. Kentucky is breathing optimism after surviving two legitimate challenges on the first weekend of the Dance. Kentucky’s temperature was taken by two spirited and dogged opponents, and yet the Wildcats proved worthy of the Sweet 16. As the underdog in this matchup, Kentucky represents a legitimate threat to the Buckeyes’ hegemony; coach John Calipari’s UK crew knows it has nothing to lose as it takes on the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. The difference in this game will likely come down to two factors: First, Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger offers the kind of imposing inside presence that Kentucky simply lacks. Sullinger is much too quick for Kentucky center Josh Harrellson, who has been a key source of the Wildcats’ success in March. Sullinger has a very good chance of getting Harrellson in foul trouble and thereby placing a great deal of pressure on Kentucky’s forwards.

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The other factor is that those same Kentucky forwards, Terrence Jones in particular, will be matched against able Ohio State defenders. OSU has great shooters such as Jon Diebler, but the Buckeyes own elite perimeter defenders such as David Lighty and William Buford. OSU coach Thad Matta presides over a roster that can win at any tempo, with any style, under virtually any score or circumstance. In the 50s or in the 80s, Ohio State has the resources needed to compete at a high level.

One fascinating subtext to this matchup is that Calipari and Matta have met in the Regionals before… not in the Sweet 16, but in the Elite Eight. Four years ago, in 2007, Calipari’s Memphis team played Matta’s Buckeyes in the South Regional final in San Antonio. A riveting back-and-forth contest ended with Ohio State digging out a very close win thanks to the inside-outside combo of center Greg Oden and sniper Ron Lewis. This year, OSU is still evidently balanced, and Calipari’s team in the thick of the fight owns the dynamic athleticism that can make the Buckeyes sweat. Buckle up for a wild ride; this sexy showdown between elite programs is sure to rule the night in Newark.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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