Will Wisconsin and Ohio State Be Elite?Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 22nd, 2012
The first weekend of March Madness is similar to a long distance run. Runners usually go at a slower pace to keep logging longer distances and stay on their feet for a longer time. That’s how college hoops fans approach the first few days of games of the NCAA Tournament. The second weekend is a little bit slower but more analogous to a “tempo” run. The games are still moving at a faster pace but not necessarily at the pace of a sprint, so the fans can focus on the specific mechanics of the game and key matchups. Four B1G teams will showcase their talents over the next couple days during the Sweet Sixteen. More than likely, a couple of teams will advance into the Elite Eight but every one of them – Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana — has a shot to keep moving towards the Final Four. Let’s examine if Wisconsin and Ohio State have what it takes to be elite based on their matchups in the round of 16.
Wisconsin vs. Syracuse
- Key Matchup: Wisconsin’s defense vs. Syracuse’s transition game. Everybody is aware of Boeheim’s lethal 2-3 zone and what it takes to break it consistently during a 40-minute game. But ‘Cuse is practically impossible to stop if they can get their transition game going on offense. Without Fab Melo, they don’t have the low post presence to challenge teams effectively in a half court set, so they need some easy buckets in transition to maintain offensive momentum. Scoop Jardine is an experienced point guard but he can get frustrated at times if he is limited to half court sets only. Jardine’s turnover rate is 25%, which is not necessarily high but indicates a lack of composure during certain stretches of the game if he is forced to shoot jumpers. Wisconsin has the guards to match up with Boeheim’s versatile backcourt – Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters. Nobody on SU shoots over 37% from the long-range, though, so if Bo Ryan’s crew forces them to settle for jumpers, they could be in trouble. Jardine doesn’t necessarily have the quickness to get around Jordan Taylor or Josh Gasser. Keep in mind the excellent job that Ryan’s guards did against John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor of Vanderbilt last weekend. Kris Joseph, a 6’7″ senior, can cause some matchup problems for Wisconsin but he relies heavily on the long-range shot as well – Joseph attempted 144 shots from beyond the arc and hit only 34.7% of them this year. Limit Syracuse from pushing the ball up the court and Bo Ryan’s crew might be onto something tonight.
- X-Factors: Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz. In order to break the 2-3 zone, the Badgers need to shoot well from three-point land. As a team, they shot a meager 30.3% from deep against Vanderbilt which won’t work against Syracuse. Ryan’s crew will likely chuck up 20-25 threes tonight but they need to be quality shots. The shot selection depends on the duo of Berggren and Bruesewitz. The big guys are fairly important against the zone because they will receive the ball in the high post repeatedly as the zone is forced to collapse. Once the zone collapses and one of the defenders is slow to get out to the wings, good three-point looks will be available based on the passing skills of the forwards from the high post. The B’s need to be very active and more importantly, patient, during the half court sets. Their passing skills are good enough to ensure good looks at the basket for Josh Gasser and Ben Brust. If Gasser and Brust can convert on a few looks, Wisconsin will gain confidence throughout the game. The 2-3 zone also leaves the offensive glass naked and Ryan Evans ought to be able to penetrate from the wing to grab a few boards for some easy put-backs. But the keys to the offensive game are patience and consistent intensity to break the zone. Bo Ryan’s team can’t afford to go into a dry spell by settling for flat-footed three-point shots.
Ohio State vs. Cincinnati
- Key Matchup: Jared Sullinger vs. Yancy Gates. Jared Sullinger was a lottery pick after his freshman year and will likely be drafted in the top 10 of the NBA draft after his sophomore season as well. But there are certain experts such as Charles Barkley (yes, he knows something about talent) who have questioned his post moves against physical centers. When matched up against an opposing center that will hold his ground, Sullinger may not be as effective in the low post because he can’t just push them around using his weight. Yancy Gates matches the profile of a college center who will force Sullinger to move away from the post. Sullinger can’t back away from the challenge because his mental toughness and perseverance will be tested tonight against Gates. Since the Michigan State loss on March 4 in Columbus, he has stepped up his game in the post. Against Gonzaga, he was a force down low during the final possessions and he needs to repeat that performance against Cincinnati. Stepping back to shoot 15-footers is not the answer because he needs to go right at Gates and try to get him in foul trouble. This game is extremely crucial for Sullinger’s draft status as he will showcase his moves in the post and try to will the Buckeyes into the Elite Eight. He came back to Columbus for a Final Four and tonight’s game is a prime example for him to show his leadership and improved maturity as a sophomore.
- X-Factors: Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. Aaron Craft treats every possession like it is the last one of his career. There is no other player who gets more psyched to create a turnover in all of college basketball. Cincy’s offense is driven by Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon; both are combo guards who average 14.3 and 13.1 points per game, respectively. Gates is clearly the heart and soul of this team but the guards provide the offensive spark. Craft will switch off defending each of them throughout the night. Neither Dixon (26% 3FG) nor Kilpatrick (38% 3FG) have great range on their jumpers so they rely on slashing towards the hoop for a bulk of their scoring. Craft should be able to keep them in check tonight and force only one of them to beat Ohio State. Smith is no slouch on defense if he puts his mind to it, and he has the length to fend off Dixon if Craft picks up Kilpatrick. If Gates is forced to beat Ohio State, the Buckeyes can definitely end up with a win tonight and advance to the Elite Eight.