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  • Writer's pictureBen Hicks

Greater Cincinnati College Basketball Overview

As the air outside warms and March approaches, the casual sports fans turn their attention away from football and into the tantalizing world of collegiate basketball. The intricate brackets, coaching icons, and Cinderella stories are just part of what makes March Madness the most-watched postseason in sports, and with Selection Sunday just four weekends away, let’s take a look at the Cincinnati-area squads that may appear in the field of 68.

Foremost, the Cincinnati Bearcats sit squarely on the bubble during their inaugural season in the Big XII. The Bearcats didn’t challenge themselves much in the non-conference, as their only two quadrant 1 games were losses to local rivals in Xavier and Dayton. They have made up for that weak schedule with quality conference wins at BYU, Texas Tech, and UCF. Their resume metrics are pretty solid, but they do have two bad losses, so UC’s final six games will be the determining factor in whether or not they reach the tournament for the first time since 2019.

Across town are the Xavier Musketeers, whose 13-13 record may not jump off the page, but whose difficult schedule suggests that not all hope is lost. The Musketeers have played close games with Houston, Purdue, and UConn, all of which are projected to be number-one seeds. Along with their Crosstown Shootout victory, XU owns seven Big East victories, as well as a neutral site domination over top-25 Saint Mary’s. While there is certainly work to be done, Xavier has at least three quadrant 1 opportunities remaining, meaning that if the Musketeers catch fire, they could hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

Up north on I-75 is the Atlantic-10 leading Dayton Flyers, ranked 16th nationally with an impressive 21-5 overall record. The Flyers dismantled the Bearcats back in December, and have zero losses outside the first quadrant. The A-10 doesn’t provide many opportunities to improve their resume the rest of the season, so barring any unexpected setbacks, expect this Dayton squad to be a four or five seed come March.

Next, Ohio State and Kentucky are both big brands that possess large fanbases in the 513. After a hot 12-2 start to the campaign, the Buckeyes sputtered for a second straight year, resulting in the dismissal of their head coach, Chris Holtmann. Although a longshot to make the Big Dance, OSU kept their hopes alive last weekend with a stunning home victory over the #2 Purdue Boilermakers. On the other hand, John Calipari’s young Wildcats have experienced their ups and downs throughout the season but sit comfortably within the field as we speak. UK lost three straight games at Rupp Arena for the first time in 50 years, but big wins over North Carolina, Florida, and Auburn headline an impressive resume.

Lastly, the area boasts some strong mid-major teams who could find their way into March Madness with conference championship victories during the unsung “Champ Week” preceding the tournament. Akron and Toledo sit atop the MAC with 19-6 and 16-9 records, respectively, while Wright State and Northern Kentucky are both currently in the top half of the Horizon League.

All in all, despite the lack of star power, the 513 should have quite the representation in the 2024 edition of March Madness. Fill out those brackets and let the games begin!

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