Elite Eight: Ohio State vs. Syracuse Preview

Mar 22, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Syracuse Orange mascot performs in the second half of the east region of the 2012 NCAA men

The Wisconsin Badgers put on a clinic on Thursday night.  I mean, seriously, who makes 14 3 pointers without someone name Diebler on their team, and hits 55% of their 27 shots behind the arc? 

Oh, and they lost the game.  The Syracuse Orange held off the Badgers 64-63, even with this amazing deep ball performance, and made it to the Elite Eight, where they will line up against our Ohio State Buckeyes.  The Orange have lost just 2 games all year (only 1 in the regular season), and will hope to keep it at that number on Saturday. 

I’ll stick with the trend and do positional breakdowns for this matchup, just as I’ve done with Loyla (MD), Gonzaga, and Cincinnati.  However, keep in mind that ‘Cuse will undoubtedly be playing their patented zone defense against the Bucks, so you will see a lot of different matchups when we have the ball.  The Orange are a very deep team and rotate in roughly a hundred players (the exact opposite of Matta), so I’ll do my best to mention a majority of them.

Below are my positional breakdowns for this Elite Eight matchup…

#1 Guard (Scoop Jardine vs. Aaron Craft)

Mar 22, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes players including Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (32) , Aaron Craft (4) , Shannon Scott (3) , Jared Sullinger (right) , and Deshaun Thomas huddle in the second half of the semifinals in the east region of the 2012 NCAA men

Scoop Jardine (#11, 6’2″, 195 lbs) is one of the senior leaders on this team, accompanied by Kris Joseph, and is well-loved by the ‘Cuse faithful, as you can tell by the “Scooooooooop” cheers that they rain down when he converts on a good play.  Jardine averages roughly 8 points per game and close to 5 assists, and lines up eerily similar in scoring, assists, and turnover stats to Aaron Craft on the year. 

Craft certainly has the edge in rebounding and steals over Scoop, but the rebounding can be largely a result of the difference in defenses played.  Scoop is a part of the “2″ in the 2-3 zone, so he is rarely within 10 feet of the basket defensively.  Craft, on the other hand, will guard the point man for the opposing team, which pulls him away from the hoop, but he often follows his man down to the glass on a drive, as opposed to Jardine who would collapse down and then bounce back out into the zone.

Scoop has outscored Craft thus far in the tournament (41 to 35), but I will give this matchup to the Acadamic All-American, Aaron Craft, because his output tends to be a bit more consistent than Jardine’s, and Scoop has been shooting significantly over his percentages from the field, 3 point, and from the line.  In other words, what goes up, should come down, including Jardine’s shooting percentages against Craft’s defense.  I also think that Aaron “Cheese” Craft will use his brain and basketball intelligence to figure out the zone defense and help get the Buckeyes on the right plan of attack.  Advantage = Cheese, in a very close one.   

#2 Guard (Dion Waiters/Brandon Triche  vs. Lenzelle Smith, Jr.)

Dion Waiters (#3, 6’4″, 215 lbs) and Brandon Triche (#20, 6’4″, 205 lbs) will be a challenge for Lenzelle Smith, Jr. to handle offensively.  It feels like just yesterday LSJ was guarding someone named Dion who wore #3, because he was for many trips down the court, and he managed to do well in that game.  Waiters and Triche are the top two scoring guards for the Orange, and could end up on the court together many times, but for this preview, we’ll consider them as a combined #2 guard.  These two average a combined 22 points per game (Dion = 12.7, and Brandon = 9.3), and are just about neck and neck in most offensive categorical averages.  Waiters is the better shooter of the two, from everywhere but the free throw line.

This matchup will come down to OSU’s offensive strategy against the zone, and whether or not Smith Jr. is asked to shoot the deep ball or penetrate more often.  And that, will likely be determined by Buford’s touch tomorrow.  If Willy B is cold again, he may be asked to drive and kick the ball out to Craft, Smith Jr., or Thomas, but if the senior gets hot, then Smith may be asked to do the same.  I think that LSJ will continue his solid performances, but the edge in this one has to go to ‘Cuse’s guards.  Advantage = Waiters/Triche.    

#3 Forward/Guard (CJ Fair vs. William Buford)

Ah hell, who knows?  I thought that Buford would awake from his recent basketball slumber and throw a few through the hoop thingy, but then he didn’t.  CJ Fair, similarly, can put up 15 in one game (see Wisconsin, 3/22) or can stretch 14 points over the course of 5 games (see 3/3, 3/8, 3/9, 3/15, 3/17).  The forward for Syracuse averages 8 points per outing, playing roughly 26 minutes in each game.  He has an above-average ability to get to the rim, drive and score, but lacks outside shooting skills, which will help OSU greatly.
 
Buford tends to be a bit less streaky with his scoring than Fair, but has been less than impressive in his on-court “lead by example” displays in recent memory.  Fair will have a reach advantage on Buford, so he will need to get some good looks in order to get off a clean shot against the zone, when in CJ Fair’s area.  Once again, the aggressive zone that ‘Cuse plays does not favor our senior shooter, but I expect him to get back up closer to his average in this game and at least cancel out Fair’s points, if not win the battle by a few.  This is a decent matchup, and I’d love to see Will have a breakout game, but I think we’re looking at averages for both players.  Advantage = Push.   
 

Mar 22, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas (1) reacts after making a basket in the first half of the semifinals in the east region of the 2012 NCAA men

#4 Forward (Kris Joseph/James Southerland vs. Deshaun Thomas)

 
Kris Joseph (#32, 6’7″, 215 lbs) is another senior on this deep Orange team.  He also happens to be their leading scorer, averaging over 13 points per game, although he has failed to hit that number in the last 6 contests.  Joseph is a solid rebounder, and will be a part of the “3″ in the 2-3 zone, playing on the wing and either coming out to the 3 point line to help or doubling down onto the person driving the lane. 
 
While Kris Joseph is a very good player, he is not Deshaun Thomas.  I don’t just mean the Thomas who scores 26 points and kills you inside and out of the paint, which he does a lot, but the average game X Factor who will get his 15+ points and have a hand in your face on defense.  Simply put, both players are very good, but Thomas’ very good is better than Joseph’s.  I am looking forward to another 16-20 point performance by Thomas, with 6-7 rebounds.  For Joseph, I think this is a 12-15 points and 5 rebound outing.  James Southerland may step in and add a couple here or there for the Orange, but it won’t change my prediction here.  Advantage = Thomas.
 
#5 Center/Forward (Baye Keita/Rakeem Christmas vs. Jared Sullinger)
 
Baye Keita (#12, 6’10″, 215 lbs) and Rakeem Christmas (#25, 6’9″, 228) will likely see Jared Sullinger in the paint a few times tomorrow.  They will likely be doubled up on him, thanks to zone help, at almost all times when he has the ball.  This could work for or against ‘Cuse, depending on Sullinger’s success against it.  For example, if the zone pressure frustrates Jared, leads to turnovers, or forces Sully outside, then OSU will have to completely change its offensive gameplan.  On the other side of the coin, if OSU is able to get the ball inside to Jared, cutting through the zone, and he can go up against Keita, Christmas, or the barrage of forwards that they possess (all of which are lacking in physical presence compared to Sully), then I like our chances.
 
It can’t go without saying that the Orange would be in a different boat altogether if Fab Melo were still eligible and playing, but there is no one on Syracuse’s roster, right now, that can line up against Jared Sullinger underneath.  In this matchup, the advantage has to go to Sullinger in the paint.  He should get his usual numbers, and hopefully a few assists as he kicks the ball out to a guard (or Thomas) for a quick/open 3 pointer.  Advantage = Sullinger. 
 
Overall Prediction:  This matchup is exciting and frightening at the same time.  Against Cincinnati, it was clear that OSU was dominant underneath, but when the Bearcats’ guards caught fire and began hitting shots, it was anybody’s game.  I expect the same in this battle, and am giving the edge to OSU.  I think that the game will have its usual swings in momentum, but that the Buckeyes will keep pressure on the Orange guards and force more turnovers than Syracuse is used to.  The game will be close down to the last 2 minutes, and free throws and fouls will open it up a bit.
 
OSU  75 – Syracuse 68
 
Who needs narration to describe a 2-3 zone when you can listen to music, read the words, and look at the arrows in the diagrams?

 
Follow me on Twitter @ScarletandGame or @AJBorland

Topics: Aaron Craft, Baye Keita, Brandon Triche, CJ Fair, Deshaun Thomas, Dion Waiters, James Southerland, Jared Sullinger, Jim Boeheim, Jr., Kris Joseph, Lenzelle Smith, Rakeem Christmas, Scoop Jardine, Thad Matta, William Buford

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