Syracuse vs. Ohio State: Buckeyes Who Must Shine in Elite 8 to Eliminate Orange

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2012

The east region held to form with No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 seed Ohio State reaching the Elite Eight to battle for a spot in New Orleans. However, due to the Orange's loss of Fab Melo, the Buckeyes actually enter the clash as a slight favorite.

Here are three Ohio State players who must have strong performances if the Buckeyes are going to punch their Final Four tickets on Saturday night.

 

Jared Sullinger

Even though Sullinger's stats are similar to his freshman season, he's improved quite a bit since this time last year. His jump shot has become a weapon, especially since he can knock down an outside shot to keep defenses honest, and his own defensive play is much better.

He should be able to have his way with Syracuse's forwards without Melo available to control the paint. Kris Joseph doesn't have the size to contain Ohio State's biggest star, so it's important for Sullinger to establish himself early to put pressure on the Orange zone.

The Columbus native is averaging 18 points and nine rebounds so far during the tournament. He'll need to match or exceed that production for the Buckeyes to advance.

 

Aaron Craft

Three of Syracuse's four top scorers are guards, and all of them are capable of heating up from downtown. The onus will be on Craft, one of the nation's top perimeter defenders, to make sure the Orange don't hit a barrage of long jumpers.

He'll likely start the game guarding Scoop Jardine, but will probably rotate onto Dion Waiters or Brandon Triche, depending on which player has the hot hand. Craft has the ability to guard them all, even though he'll be at a size disadvantage.

In addition to his defensive duties, Ohio State needs Craft to chip in on the offensive end as well. It's a lot of responsibility, but the sophomore has been up to the task.

 

Lenzelle Smith Jr.

Smith is the overlooked member of Ohio State's starting lineup, but that doesn't make him any less important. For example, the Buckeyes defeated Gonzaga by seven. Smith had seven points. They beat Cincinnati by 15. Smith had 15 points.

So, it's clear Smith plays a vital role despite his teammates getting more publicity. He's like the glue that holds everything together. If the Buckeyes need a big rebound or timely bucket, Smith has a tendency to step up to make it happen.

Ohio State doesn't have much depth, so Thad Matta needs Smith to keep producing. The head coach knows how important he is, even if the casual fan doesn't.

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