1The NCAA Tournament's field has officially been trimmed to the Sweet 16, and local hoops program, the Syracuse basketball team, is still alive and need a few more victories to make the Final Four in New Orleans, La., March 31-April 2.
For the next few days, SB Nation New York will be breaking down the Orange's next March Madness contest against the Wisconsin Badgers on Thursday in Boston, Ma. (7:15 p.m. on CBS). For more on Syracuse vs. Wisconsin, check back to this StoryStream.
Meanwhile, here's Part I of our preview: X-factor
Syracuse Orange (33-2)
The flashy names to be tossed around come Thursday, will be senior forward Kris Joseph, senior point guard Scoop Jardine and sophomore guard Dion Waiters, however, there's no doubting that the defensive play of freshman center Rakeem Christmas (6-foot-9, 222 pounds) will be the x-factor against Wisconsin.
Entering the Orange's Sweet 16 match-up with the Badgers, many experts are focusing on the defense of the Badgers and what their stout man-to-man defense can do against Syracuse "up-tempo" offense. Well, despite what people think, the Orange's offense hasn't been the reason why they have won 33 games, instead, its the 2-3 zone defense which was mainly manned by sophomore center Fab Melo.
Now, that Melo is out for the remainder of the season, the defensive burden has been placed on the shoulder of Christmas, who has the athletic ability to be a defensive stud, however, is still raw and is prone to make mistakes that a first-year player can.
With that said, Christmas has proved himself before, as he played well (eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks) in the Round of 32 victory over Kansas St. Wildcats, and was stellar (four points, nine rebounds and three blocks) in a start earlier in the season at the Cincinnati Bearcats, another Sweet 16 team.
If Christmas can be as productive against Wisconsin, Syracuse will have a great chance of advancing to the Elite 8.
|2011 - Rakeem Christmas||35||11.4||1.1||2.1||55.6||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.5||0.8||57.1||1.1||1.9||3.0||0.2||0.7||0.3||0.8||1.6||2.7|
Wisconsin Badgers (26-9)
Though the Badgers ultimately go as senior guard Jordan Taylor goes, the senior point guard has proven an ability to almost always turn it on the latter portions of games, especially one's in which he struggled early on. For that, he's not necessarily Wisconsin's X-factor moving forward.
Rather, that moniker belongs to Mike Bruesewitz. His recently improved play has ignited the Badgers as they play what appears to be their best basketball of the season. With a productive Bruesewitz, Wisconsin not only gets those prized hustle plays and rebounds, but it gets a player who can do nearly every Sophomore guard Ben Brust thing on offense - shoot from all around the court, drive and dish.
If Bruesewitz continues to play well, a much smaller burden falls on and Wilson to spell the Badgers' starting five. That, of course, bodes well for Wisconsin's balanced scoring, which has been the most noticeable benefit of this recent stretch of strong play.
|2011 - Mike Bruesewitz||35||25.7||2.0||5.1||39.5||0.7||2.4||29.8||1.0||1.5||70.6||2.0||3.2||5.2||1.7||1.1||0.6||0.3||2.5||5.7|
-- By Mike Fiammentta (@mikefiammetta)
For more on the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket, stay with SB Nation's Selection Sunday StoryStream, and stick around SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub for a complete printable NCAA Tournament bracket and tons of analysis on who was snubbed, who got the best bracket, and who will make it all the way to New Orleans and the Final Four.