NCAA Tournament: 5 Bold Predictions for Syracuse-Ohio State Elite 8 Matchup

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2012

NCAA Tournament: 5 Bold Predictions for Syracuse-Ohio State Elite 8 Matchup

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    The 2012 NCAA tournament's East Regional has officially gone chalk. The top-seeded Syracuse Orange and the No. 2 seed Ohio State Buckeyes escaped their Sweet 16 contests and will face off in the Elite Eight.

    This matchup has several interesting aspects. How will Syracuse handle Jared Sullinger down low? Can Ohio State's guards penetrate the top of Syracuse's patented 2-3 zone? Will Syracuse score against Ohio State's pesky man-to-man defense?

    All of these questions and more will be answered by the end of the game. 

    It would not be the NCAA tournament, or any big game for that matter, without predictions.

    Here are five bold predictions for the East Regional's Elite Eight showdown:

Syracuse Will Feel Fab Melo's Loss in a Big Way

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    Fab Melo's suspension leaves a gaping vacancy in the middle of Syracuse's 2-3 zone. 

    Melo's absence has not hurt the Orange in a big way—yet. The Syracuse guards have played diligently at the top. The Orange forwards have used their length to make up for the loss of Melo's massive frame in the paint.

    That will all change in their Elite Eight matchup with Ohio State. 

    Jared Sullinger is among the best low-post players in the nation. He will use his bulk to carve out territory where Melo is normally lurking. 

    Deshaun Thomas is extremely versatile for a big man. His athleticism will create problems for Syracuse's big men and force them to pay less attention to Sullinger.

    UNC-Asheville, Kansas State and Wisconsin did not have the big men to exploit the loss of Melo. 

    The Buckeyes do, and they will.

Jared Sullinger Will Dominate Down Low

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    Jared Sullinger is an animal on the low block. If he gets one foot in the paint it is game over for opposing defenses. 

    Sullinger is coming off a 23-point, 11-rebound performance against Cincinnati. He was a dominant presence against the Bearcats' stingy defense. 

    Expect more of the same from Sullinger against the Orange. 

    Sullinger is entirely too physical for Syracuse's frontcourt. Once he creates space in the paint, he has an excellent scoring touch. 

    C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas, James Southerland and Baye Keita are all fine big men. But they are not Sullinger.

    Sullinger will make that obvious rather quickly.

Syracuse Will Struggle to Score

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    The Syracuse Orange rely on the fast break and transition game to score the majority of their points. The Orange's half-court offense has struggled at times this season.

    The Buckeyes lock down on defense and will blanket Syracuse players. 

    Aaron Craft and William Buford are both excellent defenders on and off the ball.

    Craft is a threat to take the ball away at any time and is one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation. Buford is athletic, lanky and can defend multiple positions. Buford's versatility gives the Buckeye defense great flexibility. 

    Syracuse has many capable options on the offensive end, but they lack a takeover presence. Their leading scorer, Dion Waiters, comes off the bench. 

    The Orange will score, but it will be tough against the Buckeyes' man-to-man defense. 

    Do not expect any Orange player to take this game over.

Deshaun Thomas Will Be the Buckeyes' Most Valuable Player

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    Deshaun Thomas is an extremely skilled big man when he decides to play within himself. 

    Thomas has played excellent in the tournament thus far. He is averaging 25 points per game and has also been a force on the glass. 

    The Buckeyes are not a deep team. They need their starters to pull their weight and contribute on a consistent basis, especially Thomas.

    Thomas has shown a tendency to drift on offense at times this season, but he is playing at the top of his game right now.

    Thomas is an athletic, face-up power forward with a developing perimeter game. He exudes confidence and wants the ball in big moments. When at his best, Thomas is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

    Syracuse will not have an answer for Thomas. He will stretch their zone with his ability to step outside or penetrate. 

    The Buckeyes have waited for Thomas to play consistently all season. 

    It appears Thomas is finally up to the challenge. That makes the Buckeyes a very difficult team to beat.

Ohio State Will Head to the Final Four

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    The Ohio State Buckeyes will defeat the Syracuse Orange in the Elite Eight and move on to the Final Four in New Orleans. 

    Syracuse has triumphed over the loss of its starting center, Fab Melo, so far in this tournament. The Buckeyes have the pieces to exploit every weakness of Syracuse's zone, especially without Melo guarding the rim.

    Ohio State's excellent defense will bother the Orange. Syracuse will struggle to rebound the ball on both ends, as its has all season. 

    Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas are playing dynamic basketball. Sullinger will push his way into the paint and negate the benefit of playing zone, allowing Ohio State's guards to get wide-open looks.

    Expect the Buckeye backcourt to make enough perimeter shots to keep the Syracuse zone honest. That will open up the paint, giving Sullinger and Thomas way too much room to work. 

    This game will be close, but Ohio State will not be denied.