One half of the Elite 8 will be set tonight as the East and West Regions play their semifinal games. As always, we’ll have immediate previews and predictions ready for you here at MSF.
To kick our Elite 8 coverage off, here is a preview of the East Regional Final game between #1 seed Syracuse and #2 seed Ohio State. Yes, despite the loss of Fab Melo, chalk prevailed in Boston.
Syracuse-Ohio State Elite 8 Game Info
- Seeds & Region: #1 Syracuse v #2 Ohio State in East Region
- Syracuse-Ohio State Date: Saturday, March 24
- Syracuse-Ohio State Tip Time: 7:05 ET
- Syracuse-Ohio State Location: Boston
- Syracuse-Ohio State TV: CBS
- Syracuse-Ohio State Announcers: Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery
- Syracuse-Ohio State Point Spread: TBA
- Tickets: East Regional Tickets in Boston
Syracuse-Ohio State Regional Final Analysis and Prediction
Following wins by Syracuse and Ohio State on Thursday night, the East Regional Final on Saturday will feature its top two seeds.
The Orange withstood a three-point barrage from Wisconsin to win by a single point, as C.J. Fair scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead four players with at least 11 points.
Ohio State relinquished a halftime lead but use a huge late run to pull away and win handily. Forwards Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger combined for 49 points and 18 rebounds in the victory.
Syracuse-Ohio State By The Numbers
Heading into Thursday’s games, both teams ranked in the Top 15 for both offensive and defensive efficiency, and it’s tough to think this will be anything other than a close game.
Of all the teams Syracuse has played in the tournament so far, the Buckeyes seem best suited to take advantage of the loss of Fab Melo. While Syracuse has one of the lowest defensive rebounding percentages in the nation, OSU boasts a high offensive rebounding percentage, which was on display against Cincinnati on Thursday. The Orange will definitely have their hands full with Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, who combined for nine offensive boards against the Bearcats.
The Syracuse defense forces turnovers at a high rate, but much like Wisconsin, Ohio State takes great care of the basketball. The Buckeyes fared relatively well against a stingy Cincinnati defense, and they also saw a bit of zone versus the Bearcats. Obviously it’s not exactly the same as what the Orange will play on Saturday, but it should at least give some indication of what to expect.
With Melo out, keep an eye on the two-point defense as well. The Buckeyes shoot over 53 percent from inside the arc, and while the Orange have held opponents to low two-point shooting for the season, Melo’s shot-blocking has certainly played a factor there.
Based on Ohio State’s shooting this season, Syracuse’s zone could present issues, particularly if the Buckeyes wind up settling for a lot of three-pointers. They are making less than 33 percent from long range, which doesn’t bode well against a tough perimeter defense from Syracuse (Wisconsin’s crazy performance on Thursday not withstanding). Deshaun Thomas will play a key role in the offensive attack, as he seems like the best option to flash into the middle of the 2-3 zone.
On the other end of the floor, there are a couple things you should not expect: free throws and turnovers. The Buckeyes rarely put their foes on the line, while ‘Cuse rarely gets there, and the Orange are among the best in the country at limiting turnovers.
The two key areas then will be Syracuse’s ability to grab offensive rebounds as well as its two-point shooting. The Orange grab over 36 percent of their misses, but the Buckeyes are among the top teams in the nation in terms of defensive rebounding percentage. If they can limit Syracuse’s second chance points, I like their chances to advance.
The Orange have also made better than 52 percent of their shots inside the arc, while OSU ranks in the Top 60 in two-point defense. Syracuse will definitely be looking for a repeat performance from C.J. Fair, who hit 7-of-9 from the field against the Badgers.
Syracuse-Ohio State Prediction
In terms of individual matchups, a few definitely stand out. First off, the point guard battle between Scoop Jardine and Aaron Craft features two guys with high assist rates and steal percentages. Craft was incredibly disruptive against Cincinnati’s guards on Thursday, and he’ll try to do the same against the likes of Jardine and Dion Waiters in the Regional Final.
I’m also intrigued by a potential C.J. Fair-Deshaun Thomas matchup between the two talented sophomores who can attack the offensive glass. Throw in guys like Kris Joseph and Waiters for the Orange and Sullinger and William Buford for the Buckeyes, and there is no shortage of talent on the floor in this one. In Buford’s case, he really needs to find his confidence. He went just 1-of-8 with four turnovers against Cincinnati, and the team went on a key run to take control of the game after Buford went to the bench with his fourth foul.
After so many people wrote off Syracuse following Melo’s suspension, I give them a ton of credit for responding and making it to the Elite Eight. Ultimately, I think Deshaun Thomas will come up big yet again, while Sullinger will prove to be too much on the offensive glass.
Predicted Winner: Ohio State
Syracuse Orange Team Capsule
- Conference: Big East
- Record: 31-2 (17-1 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 9-1
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 12-2
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Cincinnati, Connecticut (3), Florida, Georgetown, Louisville (2), Marquette, North Carolina State, South Florida, West Virginia
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Cincinnati, Notre Dame
- Player to Watch: Dion Waiter (6’4” G, So.) – 12.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 spg
Syracuse Bottoms Line:
The Orange are among the deeper teams in the country with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game.
Kris Joseph scores 13.8 points per game to lead seven players who average at least 6.6 points. Sixth man Dion Waiters is instant offense off the bench, and he also boasts one of the top steal percentages in the country. Scoop Jardine gives the Orange a veteran at the point, and he has posted a fantastic assist rate while also hitting nearly 55 percent of his two-pointers.
The team has lost just once with big man Fab Melo in the lineup, which says a lot about how much he has improved since a disappointing freshman campaign. Melo has a high block rate and does a nice job on the offensive boards. (But, of course, Melo is out…) Fellow soph C.J. Fair has also played well of late and gives Syracuse yet another talented athlete in the frontcourt.
Overall, the Orange are in the Top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They do a great job of taking care of the ball and have a high offensive rebounding percentage. For as good as they are on the offensive glass, Syracuse as just as bad on the defensive end. They rank 341st in defensive rebounding percentage, and they allow opponents to rebounding nearly 39 percent of their misses. Other than that, the Orange are fantastic in all facets on the defensive end.
Ohio State Buckeyes Team Capsule
- Conference: Big Ten
- Record: 27-7 (13-5 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 6-4
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 10-6
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Florida, Indiana, Lamar, Michigan (2), Michigan State, Purdue (2), Wisconsin
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Michigan State (2), Wisconsin
- Player to Watch: Jared Sullinger (6’9” C, So.) – 17.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 53.9 FG%
Ohio State Bottoms Line:
The Buckeyes had a somewhat disappointing season but still finished in a first-place tie for the Big Ten title and made it to the conference championship game. The quartet of Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, William Buford, and Aaron Craft do the heavy lifting for Ohio State, and they have routinely gotten little production from their bench.
Sullinger had another solid season and is a load in the post and on the glass. He consistently puts pressure on opposing defenses and boasts a solid free throw rate. Thomas has stepped up with an outstanding sophomore year, hitting over 61 percent from two-point range and scoring over 15 points per game. Buford has been somewhat inconsistent, and the Buckeyes are a different basketball team when he is on his game. The point guard position is in good hands with Craft, who has a solid assist rate and is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country.
Interestingly enough, Ohio State finished the season first in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom, which in some ways bodes well for their tournament hopes. They Buckeyes have really missed the shooting of Jon Diebler and David Lighty, as they are making just 32.5 percent from beyond the arc. They do rank 12th in two-point shooting percentage and take great care of the basketball. Defensively, OSU rarely allows offensive rebounds and does a nice job keeping their opponents off the line. They also rank in the Top 60 in turnover rate and effective field goal percentage defense.
Ultimately, Ohio State’s key to a deep NCAA run is the play of Buford who needs to find his shooting stroke as his final trip to the Big Dance begins.