Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Orange dance into the Elite Eight

CJ Faires with the slam
The 4th seeded Wisconsin Badgers faced off against the Syracuse Orange, the top seed of the eastern region, at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2012 NCAA tourney and what a thrilling game it was. Heading into Thursday’s game, analysts were going back and forth with who would come away with the win and much like the pregame debate, the game was seesaw affair. The two sides were contrasting in styles, similar to the Euroleague game I also watched on the night. Syracuse is famous for their 2-3 zone defense and their ability to score in transition. They averaged 17.3 points per game in transition, ranked 6th among teams in the big six conferences, and 20.3 points per game off turnovers, ranked 1st in the big six conferences, during the regular. However, the 2-3 zone D has its flaws. Syracuse are sometimes prone to being victims of a 3-point barrage and allowing offensive rebounds. These shortcomings were especially magnified on the night as they faced a Wisconsin team that shoots 47.1% from downtown, 1st in the field for the tourney. As for Wisconsin, they are a team that is comfortable allowing the shot clock to get down to single digits as they utilize great ball movement to get good looks. This allowed them to stretch the Syracuse defense and it showed on the statistics after the game as the Badgers totaled 15 assists compared to Syracuse’s 5.

They were two big runs that really changed the course of the game. Wisconsin’s big men Jared Berggren, who was hot at the time after scoring 10 points in 8 minutes, and Mike Bruesewitz were forced to sit out after picking up two fouls early in the first. This was done to avoid the two getting into foul trouble later in the game. Syracuse made full advantage of the absence of the Badger’s bigs as they went on an 11-0 run to take a 10 point lead, the largest of the night. Crucially, however, Wisconsin was able to respond with two points at the foul line and two more coming off a turnover right before half time to reduce the deficit to six with Syracuse up 33-27 at the break. The next game defining run came early in the second and what a remarkable run it was. The Badgers hit an astounding six 3-pointers in a row as part of an 18-8 run, which gave them the lead. It set up for close, exciting finish with the two sides exchanging baskets. Kris Joseph of Syracuse had a one-and-one opportunity at the charity stripe with 15 seconds remaining and the Orange holding onto a one-point lead but Joseph was unable to hold his nerve and missed the first free throw giving Wisconsin a chance to come away with a huge win. Badger senior guard Jordan Taylor, who had put forward a terrific performance with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, one steal and one block, stepped up and shot a potential game winning three which fell short. That was it, Syracuse came away with the narrow 64-63 win.

Syracuse will face Ohio State on Saturday night in the Elite Eight
A number of players impressed for the Orange. The star of the night for the victors was CJ Fair who finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. He showed great ability to drive the lane and finish with running floaters. The senior from Philly Scoop Jardine also had a big impact, adding 14 points and 4 dimes (assists). Finally, with the absence of Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible before the tourney, Syracuse has really relied on others to step up their game. That was exactly what happened Thursday, especially Dion Waiters who came in off the bench to score 13 points.

It was yet another thriller, between two extremely well coached teams, in what has been a crazy couple of weeks in college basketball. Wisconsin made 14 3-pointers on the night, the most Syracuse has given up all season but it wasn’t enough as Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim passed John Wooden for 5th most career tournament wins of all time with 48 victories.

The Other Games in the Sweet Sixteen:

4. Louisville Cardinals beat 1. Michigan State Spartans 57-44
The Spartans only connected on 14 shots from the field, the fewest for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in the shot clock era. The only player to perform well in an otherwise sloppy performance by the Spartans was Draymond Green who had 13 points and 16 rebounds. Cardinal center Gorgui Dieng became the 4th player to have at least 7 blocks and at least 3 steals in an NCAA tournament game. Louisville's freshman forward Chane Behanan was another key performer as he had a near double-double performance with 15 points and 9 rebounds.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes beat 6. Cincinnati Bearcats 81-66
The Buckeye faithful were surely breaking a sweat when they saw their side go behind after holding a 12 point lead in the second half. It was then that Ohio State showed their resilience and came through with a big 17-1 run. The Buckeyes dominated in the paint, with 30 points, and on the boards, out rebounding the Bearcats, 33 to 26. The dominant Buckeye forward Jared Sullinger scored 23 points with 11 rebounds, while his teammate Deshaun Thomas led the side with 26 points. 18 points from Cincy's guard Cashmere Wright was not enough as the Cincinnati fell to my favorite to take it all, Ohio State.

7. Florida Gators beat 3. Marquette Golden Eagles 68-58
The Gators continued to display great effort on defense as they are hitting the stride at just the right time. After losing 4 of their last 5 games to close out the regular season, Florida have come out to play in the Big Dance. They are being led by guard Bradley Beal who last year was named national high school player of the year. He had another superb game against the Golden Eagles as he scored 21 points to go along with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. The Gators are now just one win away from being back in the Final Four where coach Donovan led the school in 2006 and 2007.

3. Baylor Bears beat 10. Xavier Musketeers 75-70
Baylor advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in the past three seasons. This came largely thanks to big performances from two players in particular, senior forward Quincy Acy and junior guard Pierre Jackson. Acy had a double-double with a team high 20 points and 15 rebounds. Jackson's double-double was comprised of 16 points and 10 assists. A strong all-around performance by Xavier's Tu Holloway, 22 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and steals, was not enough as the Musketeers never took the lead throughout the 40 minutes of play. Baylor commanded the game from the get-go as they led by 18 points less than 8 minutes into the game.

1. Kentucky Wildcats beat 4. Indiana Hoosiers 102-90
The number one team in the nation came away with the win in this extremely high scoring game. The Wildcats were able to get easy baskets, scoring 24 points in transition and shooting 35 of 37 at the free throw line. Kentucky had two players score 20+ points with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist getting 24 points to go along with 10 rebounds and Doron Lamb had 21 points. The freshman phenom Anthony Davis grabbed 12 boards and stuffed (blocked) 3 shots. Hoosier junior forward Christian Watford had a game high 27 points in a valiant effort but there would be no repeat for Indiana of their shock upset win early in the year over Kentucky as UK felt at home at 'Catlanta'. Nonetheless, it is assuring to say that Indiana is back after a horrible lack of success under the regime of Kelvin Sampson.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels beat 13. Ohio Bobcats 73-65(OT)
Another NCAA tournament, another cinderella story! This year that team was the 13th seeded Ohio Bobcats who held their own against the powerhouse UNC Tar Heels and forced the game into overtime, the first OT of this years tourney. The Bobcats trailed by as much as 15 in the first half but came back after getting hot from downtown, they made 12 3-pointers on the night. Unfortunately, they shot 0 for 6 from the field in OT and failed to become the first team seeded 13th or worse to make the Elite Eight since the NCAA tournament expanded in 1985. Three Tar Heels had double-doubles in the win as Tyler Zeller had 20 points and an incredible 22 rebounds, John Henson scored 14 points with 10 rebounds and Reggie Bullock accumulated 17 points and 10 rebounds. Walter Offutt led the charge for the underdogs with 26 points.

2. Kansas Jayhawks beat 11. NC State Wolfpack 60-57
The Jayhawks were relieved to hear the buzzer sound at the end of this wild one. Kansas was able to send the Wolfpack home despite shooting 1-14 from 3-point range. They did, however, outscore NC State 44-22 in the paint. On top of that, Jayhawk center Jeff Withey had a great game on the defensive end as he amazed a whooping 10 blocks, second only to Shaquille O'Neal in tournament history. More records were shattered as Thomas Taylor recorded his 26th double-double of the year, 18 points and 15 rebounds, which breaks the previous mark of 25 double-doubles in a season held by Drew Gooden. 18 points from North Carolina State's CJ Leslie just proved not to be enough in the end as Kansas continues on their quest for a 4th national championship, their last coming in 2008.

Elite Eight Predictions:

4. Louisville will beat 7. Florida
2. Ohio State will beat 1. Syracuse
1. Kentucky will beat 3. Baylor
1. UNC will beat 2. Kansas

1 comment:

  1. The Buckeyes dominated in the paint, with 30 points, and on the boards, out rebounding the Bearcats, 33 to 26