Saturday evening played host to two Elite Eight contests in the NCAA tournament, as the Syracuse Orange and Wichita State Shockers punched their tickets to Atlanta for the 2013 Final Four.
At times, the action was rather painful to watch, as each winner played smothering defense and were in control for most of the game. If not for a rally by the Ohio State Buckeyes in Los Angeles, college basketball would have been far less entertaining on this day.
This season has been very volatile, so it makes sense that something wild happened in one of the bracket's regions. As it turns out, those who clinched Final Four berths this evening weren't even hot entering March Madness, as observed by USA TODAY's Dan Wolken:
Dan Wolken @DanWolken
Last 12 games of the regular season: Syracuse 5-7, Wichita State 7-5. Both in Final Four #itsacrapshoot3/31/2013, 2:38:25 AM
Here is an analysis of how the Orange stifled the Marquette Golden Eagles, and how the ninth-seeded Shockers made it out of the West region by conquering Ohio State.
Syracuse 55, Marquette 39
Once the Orange held the Indiana Hoosiers' incredible offense to just 50 points in the Sweet 16, it became clear that Syracuse was playing a special brand of basketball. That defensive prowess, courtesy of Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone, continued on Saturday.
Depending on your perspective, this was either as ugly of a game as could be or it was a beautiful exercise in fundamentals and discipline showcased by Syracuse.
Marquette's Vander Blue had been one of the most outstanding players in the tournament coming in, but he was rendered rather useless. Blue sank just three out of 15 shots and turned it over four times, failing to give the Golden Eagles hope of mounting any sort of rally.
Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita and C.J. Fair thwarted the majority of attempts around the rim and allowed no guards to crash the paint, as Marquette shot a putrid 22.6 percent.
Sirius XM Mad Dog Radio host Chris Vernon highlighted how just how well the Orange have put the squeeze on opposing offenses.
Chris Vernon @ChrisVernonShow
Syracuse opponents only have 61 made FG's combined in the 4 tourney games? That is insane.3/31/2013, 2:58:56 AM
Syracuse is giving up an average of 45.8 points over their past four wins. They're yielding a field-goal percentage of 28.9 percent, including just over 15 from beyond the arc (h/t ESPN).
A brilliant all-around game from standout point guard Michael Carter-Williams was critical to the Orange's success. The sophomore posted a stat line of 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals while turning it over just once.
Carter-Williams has really come into his own at the best possible time, and versatile wing man James Southerland continues to be a load for opponents to handle. Southerland led Syracuse with 16 points.
The Orange avenged a prior loss to their Big East rivals in dominant fashion. They look as capable as any team to win the national title.
Wichita State 70, Ohio State 66
The Shockers led by as many as 20 in the second half, but that didn't stop the Buckeyes from mounting a furious rally.
However, once OSU cut the deficit to three, sophomore guard Tekele Cotton drained a monster three-pointer with just over two minutes left, and freshman Fred VanVleet's subsequent shot benefited from some kind iron to push Gregg Marshall's inspiring squad to the Final Four.
Bleacher Report's official Twitter page helped capture the closing moments of the Shockers' sweet victory:
A big reason why Wichita State was able to build such a sizable advantage was due to the physicality of Carl Hall on the inside, as he swatted six shots. That prevented Aaron Craft from getting inside and kicking it out to open teammates.
Craft was particularly off for Ohio State, sinking just two of his 12 shots from the field. Leading scorer Deshaun Thomas was largely held in check by Hall in the first 20 minutes before rattling off 23 points, although he misfired on all six of his three-point attempts. The Buckeyes shot just 31 percent as a team.
Despite a gallant effort from matchup nightmare LaQuinton Ross, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, Wichita State showed that it indeed belongs in this game.
Considering the Buckeyes won the previous two contests on buzzer-beaters from Craft and Ross, ESPN's Mike Greenberg didn't necessarily consider this an upset despite the massive gap in seeding:
Mike Greenberg @Espngreeny
I thought OSU was fortunate to beat Iowa State and Arizona. Luck ran out tonight. #WichitaState3/31/2013, 1:46:24 AM
Ohio State matched a season-low by putting up just 22 points in the first half. By the time it looked like the team that ran to the Big Ten Conference tournament title, it was too late.
Wichita State continues to stifle opponents' top scorers, and should not be taken lightly whether it takes on Louisville or Duke in the national semifinals.
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