A trip to the 2012 Final Four is on the line Saturday, as the No. 1-seeded Syracuse Orange and No. 2 Ohio St. Buckeyes face off in the NCAA Tournament's East Regional final in Boston, Ma. (7:05 p.m. ET on CBS). The winner moves on to New Orleans, La. to play either No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels or No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks, who will battled on Sunday.
For a preview of Saturday's showdown between Syracuse and Ohio State, click on the link below. Meanwhile, here's a look at what both teams' strengths and keys to victories will be:
Ohio St. Buckeyes (30-7)
Jared Sullinger: In a team sport its tough to single out one player and say, "He's the best option for this team to earn a victory". In the case of the 6-foot-9, sophomore forward this isn't a stretch at all.
With the loss of Syracuse's sophomore center Fab Melo, Orange fan's have been dreading the time when its team will face a opponent with a big-man who has an inside-out game and can crash the glass like Sullinger.
If you're a betting man, count Sullinger in for a 20-point, 10-rebound night. As for the rest of the Buckeyes? I guess, we will all see.
The perfect sidekick: In the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament, sophomore forward DeShaun Thomas has been almost unstopable averaging 25 points per game, including a 31-point performance against Loyola, Md. Greyhounds in the first round.
If Syracuse is going to focus on stopping Sullinger, well, Thomas (6-7, 225 pounds) provides the perfect second option.
Aaron Craft's defense: The Orange feature a bevy of talented players that can beat you off the dribble or from the parameter. So far, the most consistent scorer has been sophomore guard Dion Waiters, who's almost playing at a Carmelo Anthony-like level.
Waiters is lightning fast with the dribble, is confident in his step-back jumper and can pull-up for a 3-pointer in transition. Ohio State's answer for Waiters will be putting Craft, the best defensive player in the Big Ten Conference, on him.
This should be a great match-up all night long.
Rebounding: One of Syracuse's flaw is, probably, Ohio State biggest strength, and that's crashing the glass on both offense and defense.
There's no doubting the Buckeyes are going to win this battle, the question is going to be how much and will in allow Ohio State to collect more second-chances late in a tight ball game?
Syracuse Orange (34-2)
2-3 zone: Every expert has an opinion on SU's patented 2-3 zone defense, and, in the end, many believe it will be the Orange's Achilles heel against a well balanced inside-out offense like Ohio State.
However, opponents don't realize how good the zone (even without Melo) is until they face it. Its long, its adjusts and tests the patients of an opponent's offense. If you move the ball around and wait for a opening look, it will be there -- just ask the Wisconsin Badgers, who nailed 14 3-pointers against it. However, if you settle and take bad shot, it will lead to easy fast-break points for the Orange.
Scoring depth: The words, "Syracuse has the most depth in the country," has been used close to one million times this year by analysts this season. But that doesn't fully describe the Orange's roster well.
Even without Melo, Syracuse is currently utilizing a solid eight-man rotation, as Waiters, the team's second-leading scorer, junior forward James Southerlnad, SU's leading scorer after the first two NCAA wins, and sophomore center Baye Keita, who tallied a season-high 26 minutes against Wisconsin, are all coming off the bench.
If any of the five starters are struggling -- i.e. senior forward Kris Joseph netting just seven points against the Badgers on Thursday -- somebody ALWAYS steps up to make up the difference -- i.e. sophomore forward C.J. Fair scoring a team-high 15 points.
Guard talent: Of all the talk about the Orange's lack of an inside presence because of the loss of Melo, one glaring strength of SU gets lost in the fold -- its guard play.
Now, Syracuse may not showcase the likes of a dynamic duo like the Villanova Wildcats did back in '06 with Kyle Lowry and Randy Foye, but the trio of Jardine, Triche and Waiters are close.
All three players can beat their defender off the dribble and/or pull-up for a 3-point shot. Waiters prefers to create his own jumper, Jardine uses a screen at the top of the arc, while Triche will mainly come off screens. Meanwhile, neither player is afraid to take it to the rim and create something there.
If this contest is a blowout either way, it will be a shocker. Currently, Ohio St. enters as 3-point favorites, putting Syracuse in the underdog role for the first time this season.
In the end, pace and defense will determine the winner in this one. A slower, more physical tempo will favor the bigger, stronger Buckeyes squad, while an up-and-down, transition game is what Syracuse wants to do. Then, in the final minutes, the winner will be decided on which team is going to make the big stop to close out the victory.
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