The Final Four of the NCAA tournament will include at least one team from the Big East. The Syracuse Orange and the Marquette Golden Eagles are set to clash for the second time this season.
Marquette won the regular season meeting 74-71 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI, but this time the stakes are obviously much higher.
Both teams have had to battle through tough opposition to get to this point. Syracuse knocked off the top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers on Thursday night and Marquette outlasted second-seed Miami.
It should be a fantastic game to watch and here are the particulars.
When: Saturday, March 30 at 4:30 p.m ET
Where: Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
TV: CBS Sports
Spread Info: Syracuse is favored (-3.5), per OddsShark.com
How Marquette Won the First Matchup
Despite holding a three-point lead at the half, the Orange couldn't hold on, and part of the reason for that was the huge free-throw discrepancy.
Marquette had 35 field goal attempts to only seven for Syracuse. With the opponent shooting five times the amount of free throws, its a wonder the Orange were able to stay within five points.
Marquette won the battle on the boards 30-26, and though that might seem like a small edge, those four rebounds can easily be the difference in a three-point game.
Attacking the Syracuse Zone
Davante Gardner ate the Orange alive in the first game. He was seven-of-seven from the field with 26 points and eight rebounds. He shot 13-of-the team's 35 free-throw attempts and was easily the biggest factor in the game.
Gardner buried mid-range shots and attacked the open areas in the zone to create havoc.
Looking Ahead to this Matchup
What Has Changed Since Then?
These two teams are still very much the same as they were then. They're evenly matched, but where Marquette has a clear advantage is in depth.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim only plays eight players consistently, and the Orange get very little from their bench. Marquette coach Buzz Williams usually gets 10 players on the floor, and Gardner is the Big East Sixth Man of the Year.
Much of what caused the Orange to lose the first meeting could be attributed to fatigue.
C.J. Fair played the entire game and he's averaging 34.7 minutes per contest, Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 35.2 and Brandon Triche logs 33.5 minutes.
Marquette's minutes per game are far more balanced. Vander Blue plays the most with 32.8 minutes per game, but he's the only player averaging 30 or more minutes.
Even though the Orange have more individual talent, and players capable of exploding for huge performances, it would be huge if they got a big performance from a reserve like Baye Keita.
These two teams could play a best-of-seven series, and it would likely come down to a seventh game. In this matchup, I don't see Gardner repeating the performance he produced in the first meeting, and the Golden Eagles needed every bit of it to win at home.
Syracuse will make adjustments to take away some of the good looks he received and their athletes in the open floor will be more of a factor in this one.
I'm taking the Orange to win 63-59 and reach the Final Four.
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