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Forget UNLV-Arkansas. Without much fanfare, the best game of the season may have taken place on Sunday when No. 2 Ohio State edged No. 4 Indiana 97-95 in double overtime in a battle for Big Ten supremacy.
The victory gave the Buckeyes (22-1 overall and 12-1 in the conference at week's end) the clear upper hand over second-place Indiana (22-3, 10-2) in the Big Ten race, but it was significant for other reasons.
For one thing, the game highlighted the versatility of Jimmy Jackson, Ohio State's 6'6" sophomore swingman. Jackson played every position from point guard to power forward, scored 30 points, sent the game into the first overtime with a spinning drive down the lane and set up forward Treg Lee's game-winning, 10-foot jumper by drawing in the defense and passing to Lee alone on the baseline.
The game might also be remembered as marking the coming of age of Damon Bailey, Indiana's heralded freshman guard. Bailey led all scorers, with 32 points, making 11 of 15 shots, and he scored seven of the Hoosiers' nine points in the first overtime.
It wasn't all good news for the Buckeyes, though. They lost point guard Mark Baker for an estimated seven to 10 days with a sprained ankle. That's potentially a key injury, because Ohio State and Indiana are fighting not just for the Big Ten title but also for one of the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
With UNLV casting an imposing shadow over the rest of the country, seeding is even more important than usual this year. The best way for the nation's top teams to stay out of the West regional, in which the Rebels are sure to be the top seed, is to earn one of the other three No. 1 seeds. It's likely that the Big Ten champ will be top-seeded in the Midwest and that Arkansas will be No. 1 in the Southeast. Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse appear to be the leading contenders for the No. 1 seed in the East.
That would leave teams like Arizona, Indiana and the ACC runner-up, among others, as candidates for the No. 2 seed in the West. Staying away from UNLV as long as possible is both a competitively and a financially sound move. Assuming the Rebels blow through the tournament field as expected, the team that loses to them in the regional finals will earn $250,000 less than the team that loses to them in the national semifinals.
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