It has been a season of adversity for the Syracuse Orange. The drama on and off the court that the Orange have faced would have destroyed most teams' seasons, but the Orange have persevered. Now they find themselves one game away from the Final Four. Only Ohio State stands in their way.
The Buckeyes of Ohio State have had to fight through the toughest conference in college basketball all season. They are battle tested and ready to go today against Syracuse.
Both programs have storied legacies, and a Final Four trip in 2012 will only add to those legacies. Here is a preview of the battle that will take place tonight, for the right to go to the 2012 Final Four.
From top to bottom, there may be no team in the country as talented and experienced as Syracuse. After losing starter Fab Melo for the tournament, the Syracuse Orange have rallied together and appear to be on track to win a National Championship.
The Syracuse offense all starts with senior guard Scoop Jardine. Jardine is the leader of this team, and will need to continue his tournament success if Syracuse is to advance in the tournament.
On the inside, Syracuse is one of the few teams in the country who can matchup well with the Buckeyes. Kris Joseph, C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and James Southerland provide a dominating, talented and deep presence in the front court for the Orange. It will be very difficult to matchup with them.
The defense will be the most important thing for Syracuse though. The zone will make it very difficult for Ohio State to get the ball inside to player of the year candidate Jared Sullinger. Syracuse will force Ohio State to take perimeter jumpers because of their size inside.
For Ohio State, sophomore guard Aaron Craft will dictate the offense, much like Jardine does for Syracuse.
Craft will have to handle the pressure and length that Syracuse puts on opposing guards with their zone defense. The key will be to break Syracuse down from the inside-out. Establish Jared Sullinger inside early, and then use that to open up three point shooting on the outside.
If the Buckeyes can break down the zone defense throughout the game, Syracuse will have very little chance in stopping the offensive flood gates from opening up.
Matchup to Watch: Ohio State Offense vs. Syracuse Zone
The key to victory for Ohio State is breaking the zone defense of Syracuse. Obviously, that means the key to victory for Syracuse is not letting their zone defense get broken by the Buckeyes.
Like I mentioned before, Ohio State needs to get things going on the inside. If Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas can establish their inside presence early against the forwards of Syracuse, then guards like Craft and William Buford will have perimeter opportunities later on in the game.
If Syracuse is able to slow down the Buckeyes on the inside and force the ball out on the perimeter, it will force Craft and Buford to take contested jump shots late in the game.
Either way, it will come down to Ohio State's outside shooting, but the question is whether or not Syracuse will be able to contest the shots and make it next to impossible for the Buckeyes to get good looks at the basket.
X-Factor: Dion Waiters
There are a lot of outstanding six men across the country, but Dion Waiters is the best. Waiters presence provides the Orange with a ridiculous amount of depth that is almost impossible to match. Waiters can come off the bench and hit big time shots, and as the ability to take a game over in the second half.
When the game is close down the stretch, look for Dion Waiters to take over and help lead the Syracuse Orange.
Many people would argue that the zone defense is one of, if not the easiest defense to play against. However, Syracuse is so good at playing it, they make it very difficult.
With their zone defense Syracuse will be able to slow down the Ohio State big men, and thus points will come at a premium for the Buckeyes. On the offensive end, Syracuse will feed their forwards the ball and have Dion Waiters step up and hit the big shots down the stretch.
Syracuse 68, Ohio State 64