Two men's college basketball juggernauts will square off Saturday, when the No. 1-seeded Syracuse Orange and No. 2 Ohio St. Buckeyes meet in the NCAA Tournament's East Region final in Boston, Ma. (7:05 p.m. ET on CBS). The winner advances to the 2012 Final Four to face either the winner of the Midwest Region next Saturday in New Orleans, La.
Despite finishing its regular season as Big East Conference champions, the No. 2 team in the college hoops rankings and earning the East Region's top seed, Syracuse enters Saturday's contest as the underdog. If the Orange (34-2) pull off the slim upset, they will advance to their first Final Four since '02-03 and fifth in program history.
On Thursday, Syracuse edged the No. 4-seeded Wisconsin Badgers, 64-63, to snap a three-game losing streak in the Sweet 16 round. Sophomore forward C.J. Fair shook off his recent struggles to net a team-high 15 points and collect seven rebounds off the bench for the Orange, who survived an unbelievable 3-point shooting night from the Badgers -- 14 total makes and a blazing percentage of 51.9-percent.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes (30-7) eased past No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats, 81-66, in Thurday's night cap. Ohio St. was paced by a pair of sophomore forwards in forward Jared Sullinger (23 points and 11 rebounds) and Deshaun Thomas (26 points). The Buckeyes shot 48.2-percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Bearcats 33-26.
So for in the tournament, Ohio St. earned victories over No. 15 Loyola, Md. Greyhounds and No. 7 Gonzaga Bulldogs, respectively.
If the Buckeyes were to pull off a victory Saturday, they would head to their program's 11th Final Four trip and first since '07, when they lost in the National Championship game to the Florida Gators.
Overall, Sullinger leads Ohio St. in points (17.9) and rebounds (9.2) per game, while Thomas is second-best in both categories averaging 15.4 and 5.0. Sophomore guard Aaron Craft is the team's best passer (4.6 assists per game) and one of the best defenders in the nation. Look for Craft to guard Syracuse's senior point guard Scoop Jardine or sophomore guard Dion Waiters.
As for Syracuse, senior forward Kris Joseph still leads to the team in scoring (13.8 ppg), however, is coming off one of his quietest performance of the season (seven points and two rebounds). During the postseason, which included the Big East Tournament, Waiters (12.6 ppg) has been the team's go-to scorer as he's averaging 15.8 ppg and shooting 53.5-percent from the field.
Of course, the Orange's weapons don't stop there, as junior forward James Southerland netted 15 points in each of SU's first two tournament games before being shutout on Thursday. Jardine has a mean of 13.6 points during the three tournament games, while junior guard Brandon Triche tallies 9.3 ppg.
Nationally, both teams are ranking in the top 15 in both total offense and defense, however, the big difference is Ohio St. rebounding margin, which is far better than Syracuse's.
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