The Ohio State Buckeyes and Syracuse Orange met in Boston this evening to decide who would represent the East Region in the Final Four. After a tight, hard-fought battle, the Buckeyes succeeded in picking up the 77-70 victory over the 1-seeded Syracuse Orange. Every single Buckeye contributed a key piece to this tough victory, but Jared Sullinger led all scorers with 19 points and 7 rebounds. He was followed closely by Lenzelle Smith’s 18 points, most scored in the 2nd half with the game coming down to the wire. On Syracuse’s side of the ball Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine combined for 29 points and a pair of rebounds.
Both teams started off hot attacking the paint with extreme aggression. That may have been a surprise to many who suspected the Buckeyes were going to have to use the long ball to attack the Syracuse 2-3 zone. However, as the Bucks had demonstrated against Cincinnati, they had learned well the methods of handling the 2-3 under the basket. Those lessons were proven valuable again as OSU was able to misdirect, and pass around, the Syracuse zone.
Unfortunately, Jared Sullinger was forced to sit with 13 minutes with two quick fouls. His second foul seemed to be a bit ticky-tack, but with the game being an intense back-and-forth affair, it was understandable that the refs were playing things conservatively. Thankfully, the Buckeyes have been forced on many occasions this season to play without him, which has been to the benefit of Ravenel’s development. He certainly put those skills on display tonight, demonstrating that he could handle the quality interior presence of the Orange.
With OSU’s best big sitting on the bench Syracuse seemed to press their attack into the paint even more. By doing so, they were able to force Evan Ravenel into a quick pair of fouls of his own. Matta, of course, responded by bringing Amir Williams into the game. Ultimately, the move hurt the Buckeyes. While Amir Williams is a very talented player, he is by no means close to a polished product. It was clear from his play on offense that he doesn’t understand as well as Ravenel and Sullinger how to attack the 2-3, nor does he move around nearly as effectively in the paint as the other bigs.
The Syracuse Orange, under Jim Boeheim since the beginning of time, have had a surprisingly difficult path to the Elite Eight this year. The Orange have struggled against all three of their opponents (at least at times), but have managed to scrape out victories in each game, often in the last seconds.
First up was the 16-seeded Bulldogs of UNC-Asheville. Coming into the tournament Ken Pomeroy excitedly told everyone that this might be the year for the fabled 16/1 upset. We very nearly got it from the Bulldogs, as they carried a lead against the Orange for much of the game, until a back and forth affair (with some questionable rules interpretation issues) ended up in Syracuse’s favor 72-65.
The Orange followed that win with a more lopsided victory over the Kansas State Wildcats. Despite the 75-59 final score, the Wildcats had the game within one at the half and even led briefly early in the second. Syracuse, however, had the legs to overpower the underdog Wildcats through the second half, and slowly ran away with the game to end their first weekend of play.
Last night, however, was a much different story. The Wisconsin Badgers, a tough hard-nosed team out of the Big Ten (with whom I’m sure many of us are familiar) gave the Orange the fight of their life. While Syracuse did a good job of keeping the Badgers out of the paint, they were unable to stop Bo Ryan’s boys from dropping 42 points from beyond the arc on 51.9% three point shooting. Outside shooting is one fool-proof way of beating the Orange, and Wisconsin almost managed it. However, a general weakness in the paint on both ends of the court, something that Wisconsin has struggled with all season long, doomed the Badgers. They were unable to get a quality last second shot, and were totally ineffectual playing defense inside against Syracuse’s bigs.
The madness continues here at the Buckeye Battle Cry! This has to be one of our favorite times of the year (really, who doesn’t feel that way?) and we love to celebrate by talking about as many teams, games, and players as we can! Joe Dexter was kind enough to get the whole thing kicked off this morning with a preview of the West Region. Now it’s my turn to take a look at the home-favorite East Region. Tomorrow, WVaBuckeye and MaliBuckeye will take a look at the two remaining regions, so that you can have plenty of time to read and peruse your way to what is hopefully a winning bracket!
Make sure you join the BBN’s Bracket Challenge this year! Bragging rights abound!
Favorites: The East region is graced with a few powerful teams that could be poised to make a deep run. The Syracuse Orange obviously stand in the best position of everyone in the region. The Orange hold a 32-2 season record, including non-conference wins over fellow tournament teams Florida and NC State. Seven-footer Fab Melo, a Sophomore out of Brazil, anchors Syracuse in the paint and is assisted by senior forward Kris Joseph, who leads the team in scoring at just under 14 per game, and senior guard Scoop Jardine, who seems to have been at Syracuse for 50 years. The ‘Cuse lost in the semi-finals of the Big East tournament to fellow East Region member Cincinnati, but looks to bounce back in the Big Dance.
Another team fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Monday night when Syracuse traveled to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers and came out on the losing end of a 74-66 final. The first half played out rather unexpectedly, as Pitt opened the game with a 19-0 run before Syracuse finally got their first basket, a three-pointer by Scoop Jardine, at the 12:00 mark. If that wasn’t odd enough, Syracuse then went on to score an additional 14 unanswered points to bring the score to 19-17, and kept it close in reaching halftime only down by four. The second half was a much more back-and-forth affair, although Pitt generally controlled the game throughout on their way to the big victory. The win will move Pitt up to the #3 spot in the country, assuming Ohio State and Kansas both remain unbeaten this week and the Panthers handle DePaul on Saturday. Syracuse likely won’t drop too far despite the loss.
Both Syracuse and Pitt are solid teams who are rightfully positioned among the top 10 in the country. Pitt has really had Syracuse’s number in recent years, and once again got to play the role of spoiler in ending the Orange’s undefeated run. Coming into the game Pitt had the more impressive victories on the season, with wins over Texas, Connecticut, and Georgetown, among other quality opponents. Syracuse’s most significant win had come against Notre Dame on New Year’s Day, and their only away games (discounting games at neutral locations) prior to visiting Pittsburgh had come against Seton Hall and St. John’s. One could take the perspective that the Orange had not truly been tested yet, especially in light of Michigan State’s continued troubles after Syracuse defeated them in early December in an at-that-time “key matchup.”