The big event this weekend will be on television screens in Santa Barbara: UCSB’s first appearance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament since 2002. The Gauchos will face the Ohio State Buckeyes at Bradley Center in Milwaukee today (Fri., March 19). Their game is scheduled to begin at 6:35 p.m. Pacific time. CBS affiliate KCOY (Channel 12) says it will feature the UCSB game. Radio KIST (1490 AM) also will broadcast the action.

The big question is: Do the Gauchos have a chance? The NCAA did not do them any favors, putting them in arguably the toughest region (the Midwest) and matching them up against Ohio State. The Big Ten champions might have earned a No. 1 seed if not for some early-season losses. As it is, the Buckeyes (27-7) are a No. 2 seed, and the Gauchos (20-9) a No. 15.

The NCAA’s biggest upsets, on paper, have been scored by 15th-seeded teams. The last time it happened, Hampton knocked off Iowa State in 2001. Richmond, Santa Clara and Coppin State also pulled the trick. Robert Morris almost joined them on Thursday, pushing No. 2-seeded Villanova into overtime before losing, 73-70. In a more predictable 2-15 pairing, Kansas State blew out North Texas by 20 points.

Villanova had some issues coming into the tournament and was not considered a strong No. 2 seed. That is not the case with Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won 13 of their last 14 games. They had a narrow escape in the Big Ten Tournament when superstar Evan Turner hit a 37-footer at the buzzer to beat Michigan, but they crushed Minnesota in the championship game. Turner’s supporting cast includes David Lighty, a redshirt junior who played on Ohio State’s Final Four team in 2007.

Ohio State is a 17-point favorite tonight, according to the Las Vegas line. The Gauchos were similar underdogs as a No. 14 seed in 2002, but Coach Bob Williams’ team battled Arizona down to the wire in an 86-81 shootout at Albuquerque. Mark Hull’s three-point shooting kept them in that game. The Gauchos are hoping that their snipers on the perimeter – Orlando Johnson, James Nunnally, James Powell and Jordan Weiner – can get hot against the Buckeyes tonight. Powell is UCSB’s career leader in three-pointers made (218). He is pictured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated along with dozens of other players and coaches in the NCAA tournament.

The Gauchos have a fighting chance to beat the spread, and also to give their fans a glimpse of the future. The team is mostly composed of sophomores, including four starters – Johnson, Nunnally, Jaime Serna and Will Brew Jr. – and Greg Somogyi, who at 7’3” is hard to miss when he’s on the floor.

UCSB and Ohio State have a history in NCAA tournaments. The Gaucho soccer team was defending national champion in 2007 when it lost a Sweet 16 game to the Buckeyes in Columbus.

There will be professional soccer action at UCSB’s Harder Stadium on Saturday night. Chivas USA will take on the Houston Dynamo in a Major League Soccer exhibition game. Former Gaucho goalkeeper Dan Kennedy could be minding the nets for Chivas USA. National Team forward Brian Ching plays for Houston, a two-time MLS champion. Tickets to the match are $15 general admission, $10 for children and students, and $20 reserved.

Other events Saturday include the Dos Pueblos Invitational boys volleyball tournament at UCSB and baseball double-headers at UCSB and Westmont College.

Friday, March 19

High school baseball – Santa Barbara at San Marcos, 3:15 p.m.; Ventura at Dos Pueblos, 3:15 p.m.; Grace Brethren at Bishop Diego, 3:30 p.m.

High school softball – San Marcos at Santa Barbara, 3:30 p.m.

College men’s basketball – NCAA tournament, first round: UCSB vs. Ohio State at Milwaukee, 6:35 p.m. PDT.

Saturday, March 20

High school boys volleyball –Dos Pueblos Invitational at UCSB.

College baseball – New Mexico State at UCSB (2), 12 p.m.; Vanguard at Westmont (2), 12 p.m.; Ventura at SBCC, Pershing Park, 1 p.m.

MLS Soccer exhibition – Chivas USA vs. Houston Dynamo, UCSB Harder Stadium, 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 21

College baseball – New Mexico State at UCSB, 11 a.m.

Monday, March 22

Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table press luncheon, Harry’s Plaza Café, 12 p.m.


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