The Syracuse Orange and Ohio State Buckeyes are going to meet in the Elite Eight, almost an inevitable matchup since Selection Sunday. These teams have eliminated the East region, and with a Final Four berth on the line, expect to see both teams in excellent form.
Both teams are exceptionally talented, led by coaches determined to shake the mantra that they cannot win in March. This game poses many questions and fewer answers, and here are three of the burning questions that are surrounding this game.
Will Fab Melo Finally be Missed?
For the last three games, the Orange have been asked this question repeatedly, and answered each time with a "no." Both Kansas State and Wisconsin were supposed to present the Orange with a huge frontcourt disadvantage, but in both games, Syracuse handled themselves well.
Ohio State brings in perhaps the second best big man in the country, in Jared Sullinger. Already, the doubting of Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita have begun, as it appears as if neither of these players is capable of matching up with Sullinger.
However, as in the case of Kansas State, the Orange can be out-rebounded and still win. Will the Orange be able to either contain Sullinger or win while still struggling down low?
Is Depth Going to Matter?
Another point repeated regarding the Orange is their depth. The Orange have successfully found a way to play eight quality players throughout this tournament, rotating in and out seamlessly. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, may be the thinnest team in the tournament as they struggle to use more than six players effectively.
Depth will come into play with player fatigue and foul trouble. Both teams can run the floor and score in the transition game very well. Ohio State balances out their tempo well, so Syracuse will have to push the Buckeyes if they want to potentially wear them down.
The Orange also have the depth to take fouls while Ohio State does not. This will be a gritty game with lots of battles down low if Syracuse is to have a shot at this. Getting Jared Sullinger in foul trouble is the easy way to mitigate the largest differential separating these two teams.
Defense Will Win this Game
Both of these teams are excellent defensive teams. The Buckeyes have one of the best individual defenders in the country in Aaron Craft. The size and speed of Ohio State allow their man-to-man defense to be the best the Orange will have faced all year.
Craft will also have the challenge of taking on the 2-3 zone of Syracuse. It is not mythical in any sense, other than this year's Orange execute it better than ever. The length Syracuse has is unprecedented, and every player is looking for the steal to open up the Syracuse transition game.
This will be a one- or two-possession game, with the defenses frustrating both sides equally. The key will be which one can weather the storm of offense in the final minutes to cling to the slim lead.
This may be the closest of all Elite Eight teams based on sheer talent on both sides. The deciding factors will be Syracuse's post presence and Ohio State's shooting. On paper, the metrics seem to dictate that Ohio State should be the slight favorite, but the deciding factor will be the Orange's depth.
In a hard-fought game, the guards of the Orange will be fresh on defense to cause turnovers late and prevent the ball from reaching the post. These few buckets will push the Orange back to a New Orleans Final Four.
Syracuse 71, Ohio State 69