East Regional Final
No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Ohio State (7:05 p.m. ET)
The highly anticipated heavyweight showdown has manifested itself, with two of the nation's four most talented teams (along with Kentucky and healthy North Carolina) square off for a trip to NOLA. There's a lot of star power in this one, with a style contrast that should make for a great fight.
1) Who will Aaron Craft guard, and what will his impact be? In Friday's news conference, Thad Matta's response was "everyone." While that was good for a laugh, Matta's going to have to pick his poison and hope Syracuse's secondary ballhandlers aren't better than his secondary perimeter on-ball defenders. You'd expect Craft to start on Scoop Jardine, but Syracuse has plenty of other options, starting with uber-athlete Dion Waiters or using a 2 or 3 to initiate to try to keep Craft away from the ball.
2) How will the Jared Sullinger-Deshaun Thomas combo function against the Syracuse zone? This is clearly the best big-man tandem the Orange will face in the NCAAs, and their zone has been attacked very successfully in this tournament. What Wisconsin had that Kansas State and UNC-Asheville did not was a legit threat who could pass and make shots from the free-throw line, one of the zone's vulnerable spots. Thomas is skilled enough, but he works better from the wing and on the baseline, so using him there may not be optimal, especially if William Buford doesn't shoot well. While Sullinger said Friday he expected to play some high post, that's also not the best spot for him. He should be able to do work on the offensive glass against 'Cuse's interior. Does Buford cut in from the wing and do some work? Who Matta uses in that role, and how well he functions, may be *the* key to the game.
3) Will Syracuse's depth and size advantages wear down Ohio State? Matta's not shy about running his starters into the ground, and against a zone team, maybe he can get away with that a bit more. Even without Fab Melo, though, Syracuse goes eight deep with legitimate players, all of whom are long and many athletic. Can Sullinger function for close to 40 minutes on the block and score consistently against size while staying out of foul trouble? Will Craft and Lenzelle Smith be able to handle the bigger 'Cuse backcourt at both ends?
Prediction: Syracuse 72, Ohio State 68