A showcase of two conflicting men's college hoops philosophies will take place Thursday, when the No. 1-seeded Syracuse Orange and their patented Jim Boeheim, 2-3-zone defense, square off against the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers and Bo Ryan's stout man-to-man principals in a NCAA Tournament, East Region, Sweet 16 contest in Boston, Ma. (7:15 p.m. ET on CBS).
The Orange (33-2), led by head coach Boeheim, are the slim favorites to advance to the Elite 8, where they will face either No. 2 Ohio St. Buckeyes or No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday. But there's a wave of support surrounding the Badgers (26-9), Ryan's gritty, slow-paced, yet, effective bunch, that feel the first No. 1-seed of March Madness could fall in this Big East Conference-Big Ten Conference showdown at the TD Garden.
Captained by Ryan and senior guard Jordan Taylor, the Badgers run a offensive and defensive style many see as the kryptonite to Syracuse's "up-tempo" offense and patented 2-3 zone defense. During the course of a 40-minute game, Wisconsin's game plan is to slow the contest to a snail's pace, not turn the ball over and beat the zone from the 3-point parameter. All solid formulas to defeat the favored Orange.
However, as the Syracuse' players will tell you, during a 35-game season a squad sees it all and Thursday night will not be the first time a team will try to slow the pace of the game and rely on the 3-point shot to pull of an upset. Odds, as supported by the Orange's overall record, usually do not favor the opponent no matter what strategy its tries to implement.
In what could be one of his best season's, Boehiem has put together a team that can handle all sorts of different styles and game plans. The question now is, how flexible is Syracuse now since the loss of sophomore center Fab Melo, who was ruled ineligible for the NCAA Tournament just over a week ago?
The key to the Orange's flexibility was its depth of its bench, which features the Big East Sixth-Man of the Year, sophomore guard Dion Waiters, and consistent contributors, sophomore forward C.J. Fair and junior forward James Southerland, and the 7-footer's defense in the middle of the 2-3 zone.
Melo, who almost averaged three blocks and six rebounds per game before his departure, was a detractor to opposing lane-drivers and made up for any mistakes made at the top of the zone.
With that gone, Syracuse heavily reliant on freshman forward Rakeem Christmas to filled the void. The current results? So far, so good.
Of course, the Orange's Final Four hopes aren't all on the shoulders of Christmas, but mainly on seniors Kris Joseph, the team's leading scorer at 13.7 points per game, and point guard Scoop Jardine, the squad's top passer 4.9 assists per game and floor general.
Syracuse's arsenal doesn't stop there, however, as junior guard Brandon Triche is capable of going for 20 points on any given night, while Waiters is easily SU's best NBA prospect and Fair has been the team's most consistent player all season despite his troubles in the postseason. That goes without mentioning Southerland, who's the Orange's top scorer in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, the Badgers are hoping and will need a big game from Taylor, who paces one of the lowest scoring teams in the nation (63.9 points per game) with 14.7 ppg. If things are going to go right for the underdog Badgers Thursday, its more than likely the result of Taylor's creation off the dribble and 3-point shooting.
However, if Ryan and Badgers fans were to have it there way, scoring will not be the key factor in this Sweet 16 contest.
Wisconsin will play possession basketball -- a strategy focused on limiting the opponent's chances of scoring points by not forcing anything on offense (no turnovers or bad shots) and clamping down with suffocating man-to-man defense, which under Ryan has been one of the best in the nation for years.
"That's the great thing about the game of basketball is you can play and approach it in a lot of different ways and be successful," said Boeheim Wednesday. "Coaches have done that over the years. There's a lot of different ways to coach a team and to play the game, and yet you can still be successful."
The Badgers will also come at an opponent using athletic junior forward Ryan Evans, who has a solid inside-and-out game, and sophomore guard Josh Gasser. But the most critical component Thursday, will be the 3-point shot, which for the Badgers has been inconsistent all season long, however, connected on 10 of 33 attemept in their win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Overall, this Sweet 16 showdown should be a good one, as it will come down to which coach -- Boeheim or Ryan? -- prepared the best and which players -- Syracuse's or Wisconsin's -- executed the game place to perfection.
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