Sweet vindication for OSU, Big Ten

Area fans of college basketball have extra reason to be excited this week.

After a slow start during the first couple of days of play in the NCAA’s annual men’s basketball tournament, action really heated up over the weekend as the original 68-team field worked its way down to the Sweet 16.

Of special note to fans in our region – four of those remaining 16 teams are from the Big Ten, and one of those four is Ohio State.

This marks the fourth consecutive year the Buckeyes have earned a spot in the Sweet 16, a school record. Advancing along with Thad Matta’s squad are Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana.

That four of its members are still alive in the tournament serves as a bit of vindication for the Big Ten. Despite considerable success by its members each year, the Big Ten has traditionally fallen in behind the Big East, Atlantic Coast and Southeast conferences when the power leagues across the nation have been ranked.

It’s a little different this year, though. Three members of the Big East – Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette have advanced to the Sweet 16, while two members of the ACC – Miami and Duke – and one from the SEC – Florida – remain in the running for a national championship.

Those numbers are important. While coaches and fans in the Midwest said before the season started that the conference would be the strongest in the country, there were not many believers from outside our region.

To make things more interesting, anyone who takes even the quickest look at the bracket can see there is a real possibility of an all Big Ten Final Four when the tournament heads to Atlanta the first weekend in April – each of the remaining Big Ten teams plays in a different region, and each will be looking to become the first Big Ten team to win a national title since 2000, when the Spartans claimed the crown.

That’s looking ahead a bit, though. For now, the task at hand is for Ohio State to stop Arizona when they meet Thursday in Los Angeles.

Remember, though, anything can happen in the NCAA’s tournament, as several top-seeded teams have already been reminded.

After all, it’s March, and it’s basketball. Let the madness continue.