Tuesday, January 08, 2008

SEC Basketball Champ To Beat Ohio State in National Title Game

The present-day field of 65 for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has led some observers to claim that major conference tournaments are not particularly important these days. However, this year’s Southeastern Conference tournament will have plenty of meaning. Thomas O’Connor, Chairman of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, announced today that the winner of the SEC basketball tournament will defeat Ohio State in the national championship game.

The surprising announcement came on the heels of last night’s BCS National Championship Game, in which the football Buckeyes fell 38-24 to LSU. Like Florida in both football and basketball last year, the Tigers won the SEC championship in the Georgia Dome before going on to beat OSU in the national title game. This year’s SEC basketball tournament is also in the Georgia Dome, so the Selection Committee naturally assumed the pattern would continue this April in San Antonio. Ohio State AD Gene Smith, a Selection Committee member himself, remarked, “As a sports fan these days, there are two things you can be sure of: An SEC team will beat the Buckeyes for the national title, and your favorite athlete is on steroids.”

Last night’s setback continued an amazing pattern of futility for OSU football versus the SEC. Whereas Jim Tressel’s whipping boy Lloyd Carr went 5-2 in bowls against the SEC, the Buckeyes fell to 0-9 all-time versus the powerhouse conference in bowl games. Fully aware of this trend, new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has petitioned SEC Commissioner Michael Silve to allow the Wolverines to claim a one-week membership in the SEC each November. As for the Buckeyes, only the Democratic Party has had more trouble with the Deep South.

For the OSU basketball team, today’s announcement actually represents a pleasant surprise. While currently on course for this year’s NCAA tournament, the 11-3 Buckeyes are a far cry from last season’s juggernaut that featured Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr. However, while that team had to sweat out dramatic comeback victories over Xavier and Tennessee in the Big Dance, this rebuilding group is already assured of a spot in the championship game. In fact, the team plans to take a cue from its football counterpart. After Michigan visits Columbus on February 5, the Buckeyes will cancel their remaining games. Therefore, like Jim Tressel’s crew, the hoopsters can follow a matchup against the Wolverines with a two-month layoff before the title game.

The news was far less popular in towns like Chapel Hill, Memphis, and Lawrence. One UCLA supporter was particularly miffed, noting that a pre-set championship matchup will eliminate the need for tournament pools. That anonymous fan, who may or may not be the Bruins’ new football coach, angrily exclaimed, “Now I have to find new NCAA rules to violate!” Another fan remarked, “It’s totally ridiculous when you put two teams into a championship game without a tournament leading up to it!” Overhearing, some nearby men in colorful blazers remarked, “Ridiculous? I think you meant to say, ‘Awesome!’”

On the other hand, a tremendous opportunity will be presented to the members of the SEC. Surprising unbeatens Vanderbilt and Mississippi can now dream of a national championship. However, the most likely beneficiary is Tennessee, as the highest-ranking conference team in the polls. The Volunteers could avenge last season’s Sweet 16 defeat and potentially even be part of dual national championships with Pat Summit’s Lady Vols. Tennessee also hosts Ohio State on January 19, so like Florida last season, it could defeat the Buckeyes twice in the same season. Most significantly, beating OSU in the title game would allow coach Bruce Pearl an opportunity to act like a lunatic on a Monday night in April. Meaning that he would act like “Bruce Pearl on a Monday night.”

The LSU hoopsters seem unlikely to repeat Florida’s football-basketball feat from last year, given their 7-7 record. However, the Tigers do have a legitimate chance to win the SEC if they can suit up Shaquille O’Neal and the ghost of Pete Maravich. As for the rebuilding Gators, most observers are hoping that they don’t rule the SEC this time around. Although the Buckeyes actually beat them in Columbus, forcing Ohio State to lose another national championship game to UF would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

Elsewhere, Kentucky would seem to be a natural for the championship game, if they were fielding a basketball team this year. Perhaps the most intriguing possibility is Georgia. The Bulldogs will have proximity in their favor for the SEC tournament in Atlanta. A triumph there would result in a dream matchup with Ohio State in the Alamodome. This particular dream is the one in which Maurice Clarett enrolls in a class taught by Jim Harrick, Jr.

Until then, the Buckeyes must wait to see which SEC opponent will beat them in the next national championship game. With two consecutive title game appearances, OSU fans will certainly be pleased with head coach Thad Matta. His name alone makes the Buckeye fans happy: no S, E, or C to be found.