State rivals set to battle in Sweet 16

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State rivals set to battle in Sweet 16

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- There are 347 schools playing Division I men's basketball. Thirteen are from Ohio. Four of those are among the 16 teams still playing in the NCAA tournament. Only one calls itself The Ohio State University. The flagship school from the leading basketball state in the nation -- in this tournament, at least -- will play Cincinnati on Thursday night in an East Regional semifinal that is as much a Battle of the Buckeye State as it is a chance to move one game closer to a national title. "What I've felt all along is it's just a tremendous state for basketball," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who also coached at Miami of Ohio and Xavier before taking over the Buckeyes in 2004. "I think a lot of times in the high school ranks it gets tabbed as a football state, just all the great players that they've put out. But just in the time that I've been there ... I've got a pretty good understanding of how passionate the fans are. It takes a lot of luck for four teams to get here, obviously. I think it speaks volumes to the level of basketball in the state." Although it is bordered by hoops hotbeds Kentucky (a state with nine NCAA titles) and Indiana (five), Ohio hasn't really been considered a basketball state since placing a team in four straight championship games from 1960-63. (Ohio State won the first, then lost the next two to Cincinnati; the Bearcats returned in 63 and lost to Loyola of Chicago.) Ohio State has won two football championships since then, but its appearance in the basketball title game in 2007 is the only one for the state since the 60s. Even -- gasp! -- Michigan, with three men's basketball championship since then, has more to show from its trips to the NCAA tournament. "Ohio, everybody knows them as a football state. But we have a little bit of basketball talent inside those borders," said Buckeyes forward Jared Sullinger, a Columbus native who is one of three Ohioans among the top four scorers on the team. "It's just finally showing now." And not just at Ohio State. Along with the Buckeyes and Bearcats, Xavier and Ohio have reached the round of 16 this year, with Xavier set to play Baylor in the South Regional semis and Ohio preparing for North Carolina in the Midwest. "I think the fact that you have four Ohio teams in the Sweet 16 is a sense of great pride for our state," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "In Cincinnati alone we have two, so it's great for our community. ... It's probably good that we're up here in Boston. We don't have to worry so much about the ticket requests for the game." Cronin said there isn't much of a rivalry with Ohio State because Cincinnati is tucked into the southern corner of the state, just over the Ohio River from Kentucky. The city as close to Louisville and Lexington as Columbus, and the Bearcats were in Conference USA with the Cardinals before they both joined the Big East. But there's more to it than that. Despite being separated by a little more than 100 miles along Interstate 71, Ohio State and Cincinnati have met just once since the 1962 championship game. In the meantime, there have been allegations flying both ways of recruiting violations, hiring snubs and scheduling snobbery. "It still kind of has bad blood between the two schools," Sullinger said. "So this one is going to be remembered for whoever goes to the Elite 8, and it's going to be a battle of Ohio." For the winner, though, there's more at stake: A spot in the regional finals, and a chance to bring back to Ohio its first NCAA title since 1962. "I think by us playing here in the Sweet 16, it's not about Cincinnati versus Ohio State. It's about advancing, trying to get to the Elite 8," said Bearcats forward Yancy Gates, a Cincinnati native. "Really we're just focused on trying to get to New Orleans like everybody else here. It's not about whether we're playing Ohio State or Florida State; it's about the task at hand."

The pros and cons of Rafael Devers' promotion

The pros and cons of Rafael Devers' promotion

BOSTON — Rafael Devers is here and there’s a bundle of reasons to be excited. There’s reason, too, to be skeptical. 

Here is a look at the potential pros and cons, depending on Devers’ success. We’ll start with the good as the 20-year-old top prospect heads to the big leagues for the first time.

PROS

Infusion of energy

In the same way a trade can bring a boost of morale, so too can the promotion of a top prospect. It’s new blood walking through the door, either way. There’s help for a group of hitters — and by extension, pitchers lacking run support — who need to see a lift from the front office. Sox manager John Farrell previously acknowledged the sense of anticipation leading up to the trade deadline. The mood heading into Devers’ first game should be an exciting one.

Production

Virtually anything is better than what the Sox have had offensively at third base. Devers’ minor league hitting has been a spectacle. They wanted to see how he adjusted to Double-A pitching and he did so admirably. He walked into Triple-A and kept raking, with three hits in his final game. The ceiling is very high.

Trade leverage

Theoretically this applies to Devers directly. If the Sox wanted to deal him, he’d be worth more as a big leaguer with some success. But if we believe everything the Sox say, they don’t want to trade him. They’d be crazy to do so. Leverage, then, comes in another form. Those teams that the Sox have talked to about third-base help, or hitting help, in general now get a message from the Sox of “Hey, we don’t need you.” Potentially, any way.

Feet wet for the future

A taste isn’t always a good thing, but it often is. One way or another, the Red Sox have to hope that Devers’ first stint in the big leagues lays the groundwork for the future. Growing pains might be inevitable but in some way, the sooner he can go through them, the better. If he comes off the bench at times, that’ll be a new experience he can have under his belt, although you wouldn’t expect he’ll need that skill too much early in his career.

Prospects saved, or repurposed

It’d still be a stunner if the Sox don’t make a trade at the deadline. It just wouldn’t be the Dombrowski way to stay idle. But Devers’ arrival might allow for a different allocation of resources. Whatever prospects the Sox were willing to put toward a third-base upgrade could go toward another bat, or a reliever or both.

CONS

Uncertainty

This is the biggest concern. Even if Devers rakes for the first week and thereby convinces the Red Sox they don’t need to trade for a third baseman, what does one week really tell them? A month isn’t really enough, either, but it would have been a lot better. (There is always the possibility of a trade in August.) Devers is still missing what the position has been missing all along — a known quantity. Someone with a major league track record, someone who can provide as much certainty as can reasonably be found.

Public about-face

Promoting Devers to the majors for the purposes of evaluation ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline would have been wiser at the start of July. He was raking after two months at Portland. It’s clear the Sox didn’t intend to move Devers with this kind of speed. They’ve adjusted on the fly, which is necessary sometimes, but Dombrowski said on July 14 — the day Devers was moved to Triple-A — that "I don't want to put it on his back that we're counting on him in a pennant race.” Didn’t take long for that to change.

Defense

Devers made four errors in 12 games at Pawtucket and has 16 in 72 games between there and Portland. One scout who has seen Devers doesn’t think he’s ready defensively yet. From there, it’s worth noting the context at this position: how chaotic third base has been for the Sox this season. Basic plays were not made for a time, and that’s how Deven Marrero ended up with a job. A drop off in defense is fine, but repeated errors on routine plays won’t work, particularly at a position where the Sox have already lived those woes.

Development

It’s a natural worry for a 20-year-old kid: if he doesn’t do well, can he handle it mentally? He wouldn’t be in the big leagues if the Sox didn’t think so. At the same time, you run the risk of a slow-down for a player who was chugging right along. Devers is poised to share time for now, which means he may well come off the bench, something he hasn’t had to do.

Loss of leverage

If Devers looks bad for a week — as in, truly overmatched — the Sox aren’t going to have any better position for a trade for an established infielder or bat. If anything, the potential trade partner would gain ground.