We're in for a treat on Sunday when the resurgent Ohio State Buckeyes and the dominant Houston Cougars go head-to-head in the Midwest Region's second round. This will be just the second time that OSU (20-14) has faced an AAC team this season, as the Buckeyes defeated Cincinnati in their season opener back in November. This, however, will be the first time that Houston (32-3) has tangled with a Big Ten squad since last season when Michigan eliminated them in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes are hoping to get another statement win while the Cougars look to continue their exciting season.
Ohio State was one of eight Big Ten teams to get an invite to this year's Big Dance but they were an 11th-hour selection by the committee. The Buckeyes then proved they were deserving of a bid by knocking off Big 12 Tournament champ Iowa State 62-59 in the first round on Friday. While Houston did fall to Cincinnati in the AAC Tournament championship game a couple of weeks ago, their Tournament bid was never in doubt after posting 30 wins and the claiming the conference's regular-season title. The Cougars made short work of Georgia State (84-55) in their NCAA Tournament opener on Friday.
Sunday's matchup between these two programs will definitely be a battle of wills.
Midwest Region: No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes (20-14) vs. No. 3 Houston Cougars (32-3)
Time: Approximately 8:40 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Where: Bank of Oklahoma Center (Tulsa, Okla.)
Keys for Ohio State
Kaleb and Andre Wesson led the charge for Ohio State once again as they combined for 26 points (on 9-of-22 shooting), 17 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and one blocked shot in Friday's win over Iowa State. Lending a hand in the Buckeyes' winning effort were guards Keyshawn Woods (19 points, 7-of-16 field goals), and Musa Jallow (11 points, 6 rebounds).
The Wesson brothers will need to be at the forefront again against a Houston team that gets production from almost every position on the floor both offensively and defensively. The Cougars can play at a high tempo when needed, so if the Buckeyes can slow the game down then they'll be in good shape.
Keys for Houston
Against Georgia State, the Cougars got excellent production from guard Corey Davis Jr., who set a school and AAC record with seven made 3-pointers on his way to scoring a game-high 26 points. He did need 22 shots (17 of them from 3-point range) to get there but he also had seven rebounds and six assists in the impressive 29-point victory.
Starting forwards Fabian White Jr. and Breaon Brady chipped in a combined 27 points and 19 rebounds with Dejon Jarreau coming off of the bench to contribute 10 points and seven assists. For the game, Houston dominated the glass (+24 rebound margin) and shot 52 percent from the field with 22 assists.
The Cougars like to speed up the pace and will try to do so against Ohio State. On defense, Houston will need to focus its efforts on slowing down the Wesson brothers and making sure others don't get open looks or have uncontested shots.
The Buckeyes have added to the Big Ten's success in this year's tournament (7-1 so far), and they proved some doubters wrong with the win over Iowa State. While the Wesson brothers are a force to be reckoned with, Houston is a difficult draw for any team. The Cougars' speed, quickness, and efficiency on both ends of the court are hard to contain much less slow down. The Houston will move onto the Sweet 16 but the Wesson brothers will put on one more show in a tightly contested game.
Prediction: Houston 74, Ohio State 70
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.